Healthy Cook: When stress is holding your eating habits hostage

Eating is soothing. It satisfies a primal urge. When life is getting to be too much and stress sets in, food can be your friend. The more stress, the more you eat, at least some people do. Others don’t eat when they’re stressed. They are the lucky ones.

If you’re one of the stress munchers who grabs whatever is handy and inhales it, then you need a way around the urge. Stress from work or school isn’t the only trigger for terminal munchies. Not having a job, health problems for you or a family member, money worries, depression, chronic anger, being overtired . . . any one or a combination of these stressors can start the urge to eat.

Eating won’t end the urge. It can make it worse. You might feel guilty from eating that pint of rocky road ice cream after you and your spouse had words. One of you stormed out of the house leaving the other one alone with the freezer full of calories.

Stop. Sit back. Try to relax. Think about something else. Let the stress flow out of you. Make a cup of tea. Chamomile is wonderful for an upset tummy and an upset mind. Avoid caffeine. Now, get the leash and take the dog for a walk. If you don’t have a dog, then take yourself for a walk. Just get out and move.

The world is closing in. You just have to have a cookie. You can’t live without a soft, oily peanut butter cookie. Before you reach for the bag, figure out what part of your body wants that cookie. Is it your head telling you that you must have it or an empty stomach asking for something to be put in it? In a stressful situation, it’s most likely your head doing the demanding.

Shut up, head. I don’t really need a cookie. A glass of ice water will do. And I won’t feel guilty later. I’ll take it outside and make it last for five minutes. You can also avoid that cookie if there isn’t one in the house. Don’t buy high calorie snacks if you know you can’t resist them. Instead, have ready-to-eat melon cubes, frozen grapes, cucumber slices, yogurt, whole wheat crackers (such as Triscuits), and other foods that have value and fiber to keep you satisfied.

Brined black olives, the strong kind that you remember for a long time, the ones that have you making faces, take your mind off whatever you are upset about. And it takes only a couple.

Fruit juices can be high in calories, but they are good for you. Buy a frozen concentrate and add an extra can of water. Grape juice tastes too strong to me so the extra water makes it just right, and cuts the calories by 25 percent. Fill the glass with ice before you add the juice. Sip. Don’t guzzle.

A half cup of fancy ice cream can be 200 calories. And who has a half cup of ice cream? A whole cup of fat-free Greek yogurt has 130 calories. And a half cup is enough. Add a tablespoon of jam for about 50 calories and you have a tension reliever that’s good for you and satisfying for about 125 calories. Or, buy some of the 100-calorie yogurt cups. And have just one.

Cutting things smaller works when company drops in and you have to stretch dinner. Cut your snacks smaller and eat them one piece at a time. Those melon cubes from a few paragraphs ago last longer and relieve more stress than do big chunks. If you’re working on a keyboard, use a toothpick to pick up the pieces of fruit.

You need two toothpicks if you’re having blueberries: One to pick them up and the other to get the seeds out of your teeth.

There are quite a few calorie-free activities that can de-stress your day:

  • Play a game of solitaire.
  • Read a chapter of a book.
  • Take a bubble bath.
  • Do some stretching and deep breathing exercises.
  • Call a friend.
  • Do a chore you have been putting off.
  • As a last resort, you can deal with whatever is stressing you. One thing is for sure. The answer to stress is not in the fridge or cupboard.


story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor

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