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Six ways to avoid stress snacking

In times of stress, it's not unusual to seek out a delicious treat or your favourite meal to bring joy back into your day but when this becomes the default response to a stressful situation, your weight loss and lifestyle goals can very quickly fall to the wayside. The good news is, there are things you can do to retrain your stress response and beat stress snacking—here are six ways to get started.
Jacqui Hathaway
9/13/2022
8
min read
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Quick summary

  • Eating when not hungry is often a sign that deeper needs and issues must be addressed. 
  • Stress snacking and overeating can negatively affect self-esteem and complicate type 2 diabetes care. 
  • When life is stressful, snacking tends to increase and throws off blood sugar levels even more than stress itself. 
  • Learning to overcome stress snacking is crucial to protect type 2 diabetes management.
  • It’s possible to beat stress snacking with the right tools.

Occasionally crossing the line and eating when you’re not truly hungry is something we’ve all done. Feeling stuffed after a big meal or enjoying an extra helping (or two!) of dessert after a hard week is totally normal. But when eating to regulate stress is the norm and not the exception, stress snacking can negatively affect lifestyle goals and type 2 diabetes management. 

Stress snacking can derail health goals and keep you stuck in an unhealthy relationship with food. Once you’re in the habit, it often seems impossible to get out again, so the big question remains: how do I stop eating constantly?

When life is calm, it’s easier to let go of habits like snacking, but when things are stressful, that’s usually when you want to snack even more which throws off blood sugar levels—on and on the cycle goes. To protect yourself, and your type 2 diabetes management, it’s crucial to overcome stress snacking. Here are some helpful ways to help you get started. 

Identify stressors

Learn to recognise your triggers and take the necessary steps to alleviate them. This is a great way to stop stress snacking and to keep your diabetes management in check.[1] The mind fixates on food, or even substances to cope with difficult emotions, which is why it’s necessary to learn more about this connection. Learning about your triggers and how to cope with them in a healthy way is a great first step to healing your connection with food. 

Consider reaching out to a therapist or journaling at the end of each day to untangle hard situations. This way, you can reference your hang-ups and be more aware of how to manage them in the future. 

Stay nourished

According to Eating Well, it’s important to be mindful of two things when it comes to snacking:

  1. Don’t let yourself get too hungry
  2. Make a snack that’s actually satisfying.

When you’re satisfied with a healthy food option that “hits the spot”, you’re less likely to continue eating something that isn’t going to fill your hunger cues.[2] 

Stress snacking increases stress by interrupting weight loss and type 2 diabetes management

Usually, craving high-calorie or sugary, salty foods is an indicator that you’re trying to ease stress or challenging emotions. This desire really doesn’t have anything to do with feeding your body. Stress snacking tries to lessen stress, but it doesn’t actually do a good job of it: in fact, excess snacking increases stress by throwing type 2 diabetes off balance and interrupting weight management.   

Keep certain foods out of sight

Eliminate temptation by removing high-calorie treats and snacks from the home—or at least out of visibility. Scientists believe seeing food more often pushes you to consume more.[3] Instead, try placing healthy snacks out when you feel undernourished. If you’re willing to drink some water and eat an apple, maybe what you are feeling is truly hunger, but if the craving is more intense and specific, it might be a stress response. A great defence against stress snacking is to keep tempting foods out of sight.

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Try to eat slowly

Rushing through meals and snacks means you’re more likely to overeat. After a meal, your gut suppresses a hormone called ghrelin, which controls hunger, while also releasing fullness hormones. This process takes about 20 minutes, so slowing down gives your brain the time it needs to receive these signals.[5] Stress eating usually means not thinking about body cues and hunger levels because the mind is on a one-track thought. Slowing down while eating allows time to tune in and make more informed decisions. 

It can take 20 minutes for your brain to receive fullness signals

Bewick, Biochem Med (Zagreb)

Try eating mindfully

Along with eating slower, eating mindfully brings awareness to each meal. Sometimes, people who stress eat also suffer from what’s now called food addiction. While there are still many unknowns about this particular behavioural addiction, what we do know is there’s evidence of powerlessness when it comes to food. Essentially, the addiction consumes a person’s ability to live life fully and freely. 

Treating food addiction like other substance addictions and behavioural addictions can be a huge relief. Many people who’ve experienced a loss of control around food are able to recognise the damaging behaviour if it’s referred to as an addiction. Instead of harbouring shame, they address the unhealthy behaviour and make healthy changes to improve patterns. This way they can focus on type 2 diabetes care freely. 

Of course, the major issue with food addiction is that we need food to survive—we can’t avoid it. So learning to eat mindfully is a challenge, but it’s possible.[6]

Try breathwork or yoga

Snacking is a familiar response to stress for many people, even if it’s an ineffective coping method. A replacement action, or method, for snacking can help break the cycle. While we can’t avoid every stressful venture that life holds, what we can do is invoke a relaxation response to help lessen the intensity. 

Breathwork and yoga can guide you to a state of relaxation. This makes it easier to pause before snacking. 

Take a few deep breaths. Go for a walk.  Change your environment. Sometimes what you’re really searching for is space and a little real attention to self.

Breathwork, yoga, and guided meditations are all great ways to bring awareness to those deeper needs that snacking tries (and fails) to address. If adding 15 minutes to a new practice sounds intimidating, start with 5 minutes to see how it goes and build up from there.[8] 

Reaching for cookies or chips to fill the void or lessen your mental load is a slippery slope. Eating when we’re not hungry is often a sign that other needs and issues must be addressed.

The more you tune in to your body through therapy, journaling, yoga, or breathwork, the more you’ll notice the difference between feeding your body and trying to lessen stress. 

Putting type 2 diabetes management in the forefront of your mind is an act of self-love. When you remind yourself that you’re worth caring for, it’s easier to take the necessary steps to protect your health. It can feel impossible to kick stress snacking but with some practice, you’ll find the mindfulness you need to step away from the habit and step back into balance with yourself and your type 2 diabetes management.

References

[1] Stress Eating and Diabetes. Iowa Diabetes. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here.

[2] How to Stop Eating24/7 When You’re Stuck at Home. Eating Well. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here

[3] 13 Science-Backed Tips to Stop Mindless Eating. Healthline. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here.

[4] 10 Clever Ways to Stop Eating Late at Night. Healthline. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here.

[5] Bewick, G.A. (2012). Bowels control brain: gut hormones and obesity. Biochem Med (Zagreb) 22(3):283-97. Accessible here

[6] Adams, R. Sedgmond, J. (2019). Food Addiction: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Overeating. Nutrients 11(9):2086. Accessible here

[7] Compulsive Overeating and How to Stop it. WebMD. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here

[8] Relaxation techniques: breath control helps quell errant stress response. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved 22 August. Accessible here

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