Work and life stress tend to amplify quickly, and we often take comfort in the solace of food. If you're feeling down, indulging thoughtfully in a food that reminds you of the ones you love really can make you feel better. But by the same token, by arming yourself with nutritional information before you indulge (become a label-reader!), you're less likely to overdo it and feel bad after. Of course, it never hurts to keep healthy snack alternatives handy and consume foods that actually make you feel less stressed.
A study co-authored by Cornell University nutritional science and consumer behavior expert Brian Wansink found that sad respondents were significantly more likely to reach for less-healthy comfort food options than happier respondents. Wansink believes that the sad respondents, who ate more, were trying to cheer themselves up with more indulgent snacks, whereas the happy subjects enjoyed snacks in moderation, and were more inclined to choose healthy options. There is good news, however, in a related study also authored by Wansink: When presented with nutritional information, sad subjects were much more likely to curb their intake than happy subjects.
At meQuilibrium, we know that stress, emotions, and eating are all tied up in a complex set of relationships. How we feel influences what we consume, and vice versa. The interesting thing about these studies is that they suggest that mindfulness can play an important role in more healthful eating.
Stressing Is Scary!
Stress is the underlying issue for many of the poor lifestyle decisions people are making everyday. And it is also stress that gets in the way of the good lifestyle decisions we know we should be making. Stress creates a serious catch-22: the more stressed you are, the less able you are to make lifestyle changes, the exact changes your doctor recommends to you to reduce stress.
Family practitioners report that 66 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related symptoms such as headache, neck pain, irritable bowel syndrome, loss of libido, fatigue, sleeplessness, and even infertility.
Anxiety is implicated in several chronic conditions. The Harvard Women’s Health Watch says the evidence is there to link anxiety disorders with a greater risk of developing heart disease, chronic respiratory disorders, and gastrointestinal conditions.
Don’t Stress Eat.
Use the principles of mindful eating. When you find yourself reaching for food, ask yourself — are you actually hungry or just bored? Upset? Stressed? What are you hungry for? Do you really want what you’re about to eat? How will it make you feel? Don’t bully yourself here. The goal is to tune in. When you do eat something, pay attention to the sensation of eating it as well as how your body feels right after and even 30 minutes after eating. When you tune into appetite, hunger, and the sensation of food, you start to go off autopilot and make more conscious decisions.
The goal of mindful eating is simply this: To tune in to your senses and become aware of not only the food itself, but also your response to food, your enjoyment and experience of it. In so doing, the idea is to shift your relationship to food.
Common Cravings and How to Satisfy Them
These days, most of us are aware of the obvious negative health effects of trans fats, and the FDA is taking steps to ban them from our food supply. Considered by many doctors to be the worst type of fat, trans fats are a kind of manmade unsaturated fat that’s been shown to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol, lower HDL ("good") cholesterol, and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It’s no wonder that there’s been such a movement to highlight trans fats on food labels and menus.
That said, who doesn’t have an occasional yen for potato chips, cookies, and other processed treats?
Next time you think about giving in to temptation, though, consider this: Surprising research reveals another effect of trans fats. A study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that males 45-years-old and younger experienced worsened memory function when consuming high amounts of trans fats.
Instead of trans fats, try snacks that offer you nutrition and flavor, like apple slices spread with nut butter, smoked salmon on a whole-grain cracker, or a cup of yogurt with fruit and nuts. You’ll feel satisfied — and energized, not cranky. And with the foods on this list, you can satiate your hunger and keep yourself in a Zen-like state with these easy foods.
This article originally published on December 13, 2013.