It's the middle of the afternoon. You've got 37 unread messages, a pile of paperwork, and your boss just asked for tomorrow's report today. What do you do? If you're like most people, you're likely to make a beeline for the kitchen and scarf down this morning's leftover donut to relieve the stress. There goes your diet.
Many of us are guilty of stress eating and we just don't know how to stop the vicious cycle of stress, eating, and guilt. In her new book, "Eat.Q.," psychologist and Huffington Post blogger Susan Albers tackles the issue of how to stop stress and emotional eating.
"The majority of us deal with stress eating and emotional eating on a daily basis... workers today feel much more stress... when you feel burned out at work you're much more vulnerable to stress eating and weight gain. What we need to do is have strategies... to calm and soothe ourselves," Albers says.
Here are her top tips for those times when willpower alone just isn't enough:
Eat this, not that
When you're itching for a sugar fix, try reaching for a mandarin orange. At around 50 calories, a mandarin orange will not only satisfy your sweet tooth, it'll give you something to do. Albers says peeling the orange and smelling the citrusy scent creates a "meditative moment" to help calm you. The fruit is also rich in vitamin C, which your body needs to strengthen its immunity in times of stress.
If you prefer the satisfaction of a crunchy treat, consider pistachios as a healthy alternative to salty, greasy chips. One of the lowest calorie nuts, pistachios are packed with healthy fats, fiber, and help regulate blood sugar. This way, you won't experience the painful sugar spike and drop as you would with something sweet and fatty. Just make sure you buy them in the shell.
Albers says red cues send a strong message to our brain. Stop. Try eating with a red plate or put a red sign on your fridge. If that's not enough to stop you from stress eating, it will at least make you more aware of your bad habit.
Lend yourself a hand, the wrong hand
If you're right-handed, try eating with your left hand, and vice-versa. Using your non-dominant hand will slow you down and make you more mindful of your food -- a central part of any healthy eating plan. Albers says this is one of the easiest and most effective tricks.
Calm things down
When we're in a stressful situation, our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, rises, which can cause weight gain. The key is to reduce cortisol, Albers says. Have a glass of black tea, which has been shown to reduce cortisol. Take a minute to do some deep breathing exercises. Unplug your phone or close out your email and stop multitasking for a moment. All of these will help get your cortisol levels back down to normal.
Above all, the key is mindfulness, Albers stresses. "Be aware if you're falling into the trap of soothing and comforting yourself with food, that is one of the issues that's leading to your weight gain. For many of my clients, if they can target eliminating stress eating, they can lose weight and feel better. It's a powerful thing for people to tackle," Albers says.