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Managing Your “Sweet Tooth”

The Stress-Sugar Cycle

As we enter the “back to work/school stress storm”, many of my clients’ stress-eating habits escalate. They want to know how they can have more willpower when their sugar cravings hit.

But what I find to be most helpful when it comes to the stress-eating cycle is not to work on willpower but education. And in doing so, alleviate the shame that comes from feeling like they are the only ones who can’t “control” their sweet tooth after a long day.  My hope in explaining the cycle, along with providing a few different coping tools to experiment with, is that you’ll be able to find some calm in the coming month.

The stress-sugar cycle explained

When you’re stressed:

  • Stress hormones are released, which can throw off your blood sugar.

  • This means that even though you haven’t actually consumed any sugar, stress can spike blood sugar levels, followed by an inevitable crash.

  • Your brain then sends you a signal to crave certain foods, like carbohydrates, and oftentimes in large amounts.

  • Why carbohydrates? Well, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy and they also secrete serotonin, which is the feel-good hormone.

So, as you can see, your stress-eating habits have little to do with willpower. It’s a result of your brain and body trying to manage the physiological reaction to stress. And now that you have a better understanding of what is happening on a deeper level, you’re able to make choices that will help your body manage September’s stress.

Tools to try during times of stress

Ensure you’re eating enough and consistently throughout the day. Not getting enough of what you need can add to your stress load and lead to binging. Aim to eat within an hour of waking up, and avoid going longer than 3-4 hours without eating. Tip! Pack an “emergency snack pack” and never leave home without it.

If you’re hungry during/after a stressful event. Try including foods that will help balance your blood sugar. Most people find including a meal mix of protein, fat and carbohydrates is satisfying and sustaining.

Tap into your inner caregiver. As stress levels rise, practice self-compassion. Before reaching for food, try pausing and asking yourself, “What do I need right now?” Experiment with different non-food coping tools in order to have a few to choose from depending on the situation.

And please know that if you end up eating to soothe your stress - you haven’t failed. Finding and using new coping tools isn’t an easy or linear process. By reflecting on each eating experience and learning how to better care for yourself, you’re moving in a positive direction.

Claire LeGresley is here to help you rediscover your relationship with food. No experience required, we start where you are. Visit www.clairelegresleyrhn.com to learn more.