Stress, anxiety, boredom, and guilt are a normal part of life. While we can’t get rid of these feelings, we can learn to deal with them more effectively without over eating. Our rational mind tells us that eating unhealthy foods won’t solve our stress or emotional issues. But, that doesn’t help when our brain is screaming, “Eat the cupcake, I want to feel better!”
Even though we have trained our brains that eating certain foods, those high in a combination of sugar salt, and fat, can lead to greater feelings of calm and relaxation (temporarily), we can begin to train our brain that other sources of pleasure can also increase those feel good chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Unlike overeating, these sources of pleasure will help us reach our health goals.
Some people can simply “wait it out” when they feel the desire to reach for a sweet or fattening treat. Unfortunately most of us the cookie is already in our mouth before we even realize it. Our brain will continually prompt us to find something to give it balance and pleasure when facing stressful and emotional situations. It’s challenging ignore these urges consistently. But, what we can do is replace one pleasure (eating) with another pleasure to effectively satisfy our urges.
It can take some time, but eventually, we might begin to crave that long walk to increase our endorphins instead of a piece of chocolate cake. It’s all a matter of retraining our brain.
Anything that brings us personal pleasure, inspiration, or a sense of well-being without harming our health is the thing we should act on when feeling food cravings and the desire to overeat creep in.
First PAUSE and consider these 13 alternatives ways to feel better when our brain seeks pleasure and stress relief:
- Breathe… Take a moment and count to ten. Ask yourself, “what do I really need?” Chances are the answer isn’t potato chips. Getting in touch with your real feelings and finding ways to address those needs is a good first step.
- Exercise – yet another reason to do it. It increases endorphin levels and relieves stress. You’ll feel inspired and good about yourself, and you’ll naturally decrease your food cravings.
- Get a massage – it may help relieve anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
- Meditate – Repeat a positive word, phrase or prayer. It minimizes distracting, negative thoughts and relieves stress.
- Use guided imagery – Go to your favorite place for 10-15 minutes with your eyes closed. It might be the mountains or the beach. Imagine everything you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.
- Listen to relaxing music – studies have shown this can decrease the production of a substance called cortisol. Cortisol can lead to carbohydrate cravings. Music can also increase relaxation, relieve stress, and provide more clarity and vigor.
- Take a bath with aromatherapy. Oils of citronella, eucalyptus, sage, lavender, and chamomile added to a bath can relax you.
- Laugh – watch a comedy, or engage in activities that bring humor to your life. Seek ways to have more positive emotions in your life. Finding the positive always overrides the negative.
- Find a pet and love it- studies show that pets add a sense of unconditional love to our lives and can reduce blood pressure and stress.
- Find a passion – maybe it’s photography, art, ceramics, a class you’ve always wanted to take or football. Find something that inspires you and commit to get out there and do it.
- Journal your feelings or talk to someone you can trust.
- Treat yourself to a gift, e.g., a book, a magazine, clothing, a manicure.
- Help others – sometimes there’s no better way to feel better about you than to help others in need. Get involved in your community or a local organization that serves a purpose that’s important to you.