Mindful Eating: How to Eat Well When Stressed

Story by Megan O’Neil
Photo by Anne Langan

Finals week is just around the corner and so comes the temptation to throw away any attempts at a social life, personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. It may seem perfectly acceptable to conceal that party-sized bag of chips in your backpack, assuring yourself it will fuel those late night library marathons. However, this can be an indicator of stress eating.

So what’s the problem with stress eating?
The term “comfort food” may lead many to believe that food holds consoling qualities. Although, if you aren’t choosing the right foods, it may lead your mind and body into deeper stress.

According to a study conducted at Rush University Medical Center, half of Americans tend to overeat when stressed. Furthermore, when eating is induced by stress, many are inclined to reach for foods with a high calorie density – aka, many calories in a small serving of food.

Consuming more calories than one needs is a fast track to weight gain. The energy (calories) have no function, and are stored in adipose tissue, or as most people say, body fat.

Calorie-dense foods often come in the form of processed snack foods. Before selecting a bag of chips, look at the serving size. With finger foods, it is easy to eat a 1/2-cup serving in a matter of seconds. And while one serving may not make an impact on your diet, dozens of servings might.

Smart Snacking
Subbing out potato chips for veggies has a huge advantage. Fresh veggies have a higher water content than their chip counterparts, and help keep you hydrated!

If carrot sticks and “ants on a log” are your thing, more power to you. But if not, many fruits such as apples, bananas, berries and grapes offer similar easy-to-eat qualities without all the extra calories and additives of processed snack foods.

Air popped popcorn can also satisfy a snack craving, just make sure to read the nutrition label and check for additives that could sneak in excess calories.

If you’re looking for something crunchy, rice cakes just might be waiting for their debut in your snack bag.

Still not feeling full?

The study conducted at Rush University Medical Center regarding stress eating discussed earlier found that practicing mindfulness to reduce stress eating is effective.

What is mindfulness?
Think of someone standing atop a mountain, mindfully pondering the questions of the world. Are they rushing around? No. They are taking time to slow down, and appreciate the present moment. Mindfulness is such.

A wonderful place to practice the concept of mindfulness is to the dinner table. Slow down, take time to taste and appreciate the food you’re eating.

If you feel like taking it a step further, take your time preparing a dish you love but haven’t had in a while. Relish the process, and by doing so you’ve created the opportunity for relaxation in something which is already necessary to daily life.

Take a deep breath, snack wisely, and good luck with finals!