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Nutrition, Stress and Health

We’re all so busy and stressed with personal, medical, financial and professional responsibilities. This stress can have a real biological effect on our bodies that we should try to manage.
PUBLISHED June 01, 2017
Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN is a registered dietitian and board certified in oncology nutrition, having received a bachelor's of science degree and master's of science degree from New York University. She has worked in oncology for over five years and consults with progressive health and technology companies in New York City. She's passionate about food and an equal lover of kale and chocolate. Follow Amanda on Twitter @AmandaBontempo and Instagram @amandabonbon.
We’re all so busy and stressed with personal, medical, financial and professional responsibilities. This stress can have a real biological effect on our bodies that we should try to manage. Making healthy dietary changes by itself is stressful but it doesn’t have to be!

Is it possible to change eating habits and make them healthier without getting stressed in the process?

Yes, of course. Healthy eating starts in your mind. Behaving mindfully will naturally encourage you to make healthier choices and control portions without even actively thinking about it. Being present and simply paying attention to yourself in the present moment and without judgment allows us identify thoughts and emotions and separate them from our behaviors. We become able to welcome new habits.

Why should stress be avoided regarding eating habits?
There is much truth behind the idea of “stress eating.” Two things tend to happen when we have chronic stress. The first is a cascade of biochemical reactions that involving many hormones including cortisol, insulin and ghrelin. This body response leads to increased appetite, over-eating, desire for high fat and high sugar foods like pizza and junk food snacks. Once we initially succumb, we’ve inserted ourselves into a cycle of cravings and overeating that’s difficult to break.

The second thing that happens when we’re stressed is that we tend to become less mindful of our thoughts and emotions. This minimizes our ability to hear and respond to cues to stop eating.

Increased appetite, cravings and overeating aren’t the only stress-related behaviors that can contribute to weight gain. When we’re stressed, we also lose sleep, exercise less and drink more alcohol, all of which contributes to weight gain in their own ways.

Ways to make the process of changing eating habits stress-free

We cannot control many of the stressors in our lives, and it’s unrealistic to think that our lives can ever be stress-free. What we can control is how we respond to stress. Weight loss and healthy eating habits is a by-product of a healthy relationship with food. It’s important to “check-in” with yourself over the course of the day and learn to identify when you’re feeling stressed. Then, instead of lashing out or bottling up emotions, learn to take three to five minutes to focus on breathing; or take a walk; or do light stretching. This re-focus on your body will allow you control stress and prevent it from becoming all-consuming.

Life will always present new challenges and the most important thing is that we learn to adjust and adapt. This type of attitude allows to re-calibrate when we fall off the proverbial wagon, which, let’s face it, is inevitable. One slip-up doesn’t have to result in a spiral of poor decisions. Periodically check-in with yourself and remember that you can re-start the days at any time.

Are there ways to change eating habits and make them healthier without following a diet?

Diet plans are often unsustainable. Weight loss is a by-product of a healthy relationship with food. Each person is different and it’s important to learn what works for you. When you enjoy the process, you will indoctrinate them as new habits that soon, you won’t even be thinking about anymore.

It’s important to set goals. Whether it’s a breakfast adjustment, health goal, weight loss goal or simply drinking more water. Reaching each goal is just the close to a chapter, not a book. Meeting goals is always part of the journey, not a destination.

It’s important to love ourselves. When we value ourselves, we view ourselves of being deserving of the very best. We will extend this attitude to food and lifestyle changes. Every action is an opportunity to demonstrate self-love and self-worth. Being mindful is accepting ourselves right now, in the moment. Not what we think we should be or what the moment should be. This will prime you for success by leveraging the power of you mind. Weight loss, improved energy, better sleep, better relationships, mental clarity are just the side effects.

Need more structure? Prime yourself with these tips
  • Prepare snacks when you’re feeling motivated and when you’re not hungry.
  • At the grocery, focus on the perimeter of the store where all the fresh items are located.
  • Keep the kitchen stocked with healthy items. Prep them in advance so when you come home from a hard day, there’s less work to a healthy meal.
  • Prioritize your pantry. Keep it stocked with healthier items like wild rice, lentils, beans, quinoa.
  • Use smaller plates.
  • Turn off the TV. The TV prevents you from being mindful of your meal and enjoying your company.
  • Make simple substitutions like Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or avocado instead of butter.
  • Add spice and play with new flavors. Take advantage of herbs and spices, which are healthy and keep meals from becoming tired.
  • Drink more water.
  • Try green tea, avoid juice and other sweet beverages.
  • Water down alcoholic beverages.
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Set realistic goals. “I will have oatmeal tomorrow instead of sugary cereal.”
  • Stay positive. We tend to be self-critical but don’t be so hard on yourself. Saying self-affirmations help reframe your relationship with food. “You got this.”
  • Make time to check-in with yourself.
  • Feeling stressed? Remove yourself for three to five minutes and focus on breathing; or take a walk; or do light stretching.
  • Don’t get buried in minutia, keep it big picture.
  • Get a social network. Share successes and setbacks with your support system.
  • Track your progress and celebrate all the small goals.
  • Get moving. Sitting all day is not healthy. As best as you're able, get in more steps, climb stairs, have a walking meeting.

Amanda Bontempo, MS RD CSO CDN
Twitter @amandabontempo
Instagram @amandabonbon
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