The Importance of Giving & Receiving Kindness

When was the last time you experienced kindness? It may have been a thoughtful word, a smile, an act of generosity, or simply holding the door open for someone or having it held open for you. The beauty in kindness is that whether you are the giver or the receiver, it feels good, and the gestures need not be grand to be effective.

An example of kindness that comes to my mind immediately is the support I received from countless strangers during my 2,800-mile hike from Canada to Mexico along the Continental Divide Trail last summer. My journey was so much richer thanks to the individuals who gave me rides into town to resupply, purchased meals for me, and even invited me into their homes for a warm shower and a bed. These moments of consideration and generosity from strangers are some of the most powerful memories I have from that entire experience. Those acts of kindness inspired me to keep going when times were tough and to do my part to ‘pay it forward.’

Kindness is an integral part of humanity. In fact, it shows up as a core tenet of nearly every major religion. In Judaism, for example, Leviticus 19.18 states “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Buddhism, the Metta prayer is a wish for all beings to be happy, safe, peaceful, and free. The Dalai Lama stated “My religion is simple. My religion is kindness.” There are countless examples across every culture demonstrating the importance of kindness.

Health Benefits of Kindness

Kindness doesn’t just feel good. Research indicates that there are a myriad of health benefits for the giver, the receiver, and even the observer. Both witnessing and performing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, often referred to as the “love hormone.” Increased oxytocin lowers blood pressure and increases self esteem.

Being kind to others also increases the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of satisfaction, well being, and calmness. Furthermore, acts of kindness reduce pain via the production of endorphins, the brain’s natural painkillers. As if all of that weren’t enough, kindness also reduces the stress hormone cortisol, the overproduction of which is associated with a variety of health ailments.

Increased Connection to Others

Kindness increases empathy, helps us relate to others, and allows us to form more positive relationships. Practicing kindness has the transformational power to flip any situation upside down. For instance, if you’ve failed to reach a personal goal, kindness allows you to forgive yourself and to try again. In a professional setting, it allows you to see another’s perspective and to move forward with compassion in challenging circumstances.

Practicing Kindness

Kindness is a muscle that strengthens with practice. I invite you to make it an intentional part of each day. Here are some ideas to get you started: practice loving kindness meditation, perform a random act of kindness, make a donation, smile at a stranger, call a loved one, volunteer your time, buy someone a coffee. Small gestures can make a big impact. Finally, don’t forget that kindness practiced towards oneself is just as important as kindness given to others. 

World Kindness Day is November 13, so it’s a great time to go out of your way to give kindness towards others and towards yourself, but with all these benefits, why not treat every day like World Kindness Day?

Ready to take the next step in your health journey? Find more free resources here!

How to Improve Focus & Concentration

Your ability to focus and concentrate impacts nearly every area of life from career to relationships to creativity, productivity, and more. In an increasingly noisy world with multi billion dollar industries designed to capture your attention, the potential for distraction is endless and it’s easy to wind up feeling scattered, unproductive, and frustrated. 

Fortunately, the ability to focus and concentrate can be trained and enhanced with lifestyle choices. Try the following strategies to boost your ability to stay focused and attentive so that you can do more of what matters and tune out the rest.

Practice Mono-Tasking

You are always training your brain. If you have 17 tabs open and you’re jumping from one task to the next, your brain is learning to be distracted. You can support increased focus and attention by turning off phone notifications, keeping your phone on ‘do not disturb’ or in a separate room while working, closing browser tabs, batching email, and giving yourself boundaries around social media.

Keep in mind that the brain can only concentrate on one task at a time. While multitasking is possible, it requires the brain to jump back and forth from one job to the other. There’s a cost to this. For instance, have you ever been in the middle of writing an important document and someone interrupts you? It takes a moment to get back into the mindset of where you were. Imagine the time cost of this happening hundreds of times per day.

A couple of book recommendations: The One Thing, Deep Work, Essentialism.

Mediate

Research indicates that increased attention is among the many benefits of having a regular meditation practice. Meditation also provides the ability to put some space between you and your thoughts so that you can choose what actually matters to you and be intentional with your attention. Focus requires that you not only choose what matters in this moment, but also that you choose what doesn’t matter so that it can be eliminated.

Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A diet high in colorful fruits and vegetables is packed with antioxidants that support optimal brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids are another key component of a diet that supports a healthy brain that’s capable of sustained attention. If you’re not sure where to begin, start with these 5 brain foods: leafy greens, blueberries, eggs, walnuts, and salmon.

Include Herbal Support

In addition to lifestyle practices, herbal allies are an excellent way to support enhanced focus and attention. Herbs such as gotu kola, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, lemon balm, eleuthero, and bacopa are all great for brain health. These can be taken as tinctures or teas.

Remember that your ability to focus and pay attention plays a large part in the quality of your life! Which of these tips can you incorporate into your life today?

Ready to take the next step towards a healthy, adventurous life? Start here.

Meal Template for Increased Energy

hiking

How would it feel to have more than enough energy to check off everything you want to accomplish today without needing to reach for an afternoon latte or chocolate bar?

If you’re reading this, most likely you’re a high achieving person who wants to excel in pretty much every domain of life. Whether you want the stamina to hike a 20-mile day on your next backpacking trip, the focus for a full day of work, or the vitality to play a round of basketball with your kids, you need energy to do that!

And, I get it. Before I learned how to eat for consistent energy, I struggled to stay focused during afternoon work sessions, knock out high mile hiking days, and I generally felt like I wasn’t meeting my potential because my body couldn’t keep up. 

Can you relate?

Below is a meal template to help YOU get through your busy day with more energy and ease. It works for any style of eating (vegan, paleo, etc.).

The intention is to provide you with the foundations of nutrition; basic principles that you can adapt to your own life to make healthy eating simple and sustainable (no more fad diets, please). This is not about short-term fixes, restriction, guilt, or shame around food or your body because that stuff doesn’t work over the long haul.

>>The key idea for consistent energy is balancing your blood sugar, which can be done through food, fitness, lifestyle changes, and supplements. Today, we’re focused on a simple way to approach each meal. 

In addition to more steady energy, balancing your blood sugar can eliminate cravings, reduce inflammation, improve mood, enhance mental clarity, and reduce the risk of chronic health conditions. #win

>>>Here’s what to eat for balanced blood sugar and lasting energy: 

Center every meal and snack on these 3 components:

Healthy Fat 

+

Healthy Protein

Fiber

Focusing on fat, protein, and fiber slows digestion, prevents massive swings in blood sugar, and keeps you satiated between meals.

Examples of healthy fats include avocado, avocado oil, nuts, seeds, coconut, coconut oil, olives, and olive oil. Examples of healthy proteins include hemp protein, pea protein, grass fed meat, fish, pastured eggs, and tempeh. Good sources of fiber include fruits, veggies, and legumes. If your source of fiber is not a veggie, I’d encourage you to also include something green (spinach, arugula, kale, etc) for a balanced meal! As always, go for whole food sources.

Everyone deserves an adventurous life (whatever that means to you) and it starts with a healthy mind and body!

Ready to take the next step? Download your free balanced blood sugar guide here! And apply to work with me here!

Freedom from Compulsive Eating Patterns

compulsive eating

This post covers 5 practical tools to shift out of compulsive or disordered eating behaviors so that you can become free from obsession, and eat and live in a way that involves more joy and supports whole body health.

Finding Freedom

A lot of clients show up to me feeling frustrated, having been on and off different diets, losing and regaining the same 15 pounds, and they’re over it.

They just want to find a sane way of eating that gives them energy, gives them a body they feel good in, and helps them live their life and go on more backpacking trips and feel more confident at work and, you know, not have a heart attack at age 50.

No matter what the specific health goal, a common obstacle which many of my clients are dealing with and which you may be dealing with is having eating patterns that they don’t like, like regularly eating past satisfaction or episodes of binge eating. There’s usually some level of obsession, feeling out of control, or experiencing guilt and shame around food and/or their bodies.

Practical Strategies to End Compulsive Food Patterns

Before you can have a more peaceful relationship with food, you need to take care of this physical body that you live in. Eating in a way that balances blood sugar and your hormones is going to help a WHOLE lot when it comes to breaking free of binge eating and other self limiting patterns.

1. Eat Real Whole Food

This includes fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, eggs, grass-fed meats, legumes, and other items that come from nature. Limit packaged items as much as possible and when you do choose them, scan the ingredient label. The shorter the list the better. Look for ingredients you recognize.

Real foods have water and fiber and the micronutrients that your body needs for optimal health.  They’re harder to overeat, unlike foods that are manufactured in a lab, which are designed to have just the right combination of sugar, salt, and fat, making them hyper palatable and very easy to overeat.

Your body knows what to do with real food. Your digestion, your hormones, your energy will all be better.

2. Eat for Blood Sugar Balance

If all you’re eating is fruit all day long because someone told you that was healthy, and you can’t figure out why you’re exhausted and unfocused, blood sugar dysregulation. Your blood sugar is spiking and crashing. 

To balance blood sugar, eat fiber, fat, and protein at each meal. You’ll experience fewer cravings and be more satiated. 

Fiber is found in fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. Choose sources that work for your body. Healthy fats include things like avocado, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil. Avoid trans fats and highly refined oils that are often rancid and harmful. Healthy protein includes eggs, meat -grass fed if you can afford it, and veggie sources like hemp or pea protein

3. Stop Skipping Meals & Restricting

Eating at regular times keeps your body feeling safe, your blood sugar balanced, and your hormones functioning properly so that you don’t crash and need to overcompensate later with a binge. Restriction or not allowing yourself something generally ends in a binge or overeating episode at some point.

However you’re eating – whether you’re following a certain program or tracking – always check in with yourself and ask: is this sustainable? Could I do this long term?

4. Rewire Your Thoughts

Start with acceptance and love for where you’re at now. Health and body changes don’t come from hating yourself. Most of us have years of mental conditioning around beating ourselves up and speaking negatively to ourselves. 

Try this exercise: For 24 hours (preferably longer), pay attention to your thoughts. Notice every thought about yourself. When you have a negative thought, retrain it to something more positive, but still believable. Repeat. Neurons that fire together, wire together. Many of these negative thoughts have been happening automatically for years. Rewiring thought patterns requires repetition, but it’s completely possible, and it’s truly life changing. 

Our thoughts create our emotions which determines our actions which determines the outcomes we get in life. When you’re thinking more positive and self accepting thoughts, the choices you make for yourself change and the results you get in life change. Specifically with health, when we start speaking to ourselves more lovingly, we decide we’re worth healthier food choices, and we have better energy, more clarity, and a greater sense of wellbeing.

5. Manage Expectations

This journey is anything but linear. It takes practice. Be patient and stick with it. Your peace of mind is worth it. If you over eat or under eat or eat something you’re not happy about, just be with the uncomfortable emotion. Feel it and let it pass. Know that the process gets easier with practice.

Ready to take the next step?

Book a free Health Made Simple Strategy Call and receive a free assessment of gaps in your wellness routine that are blocking you from your health goals.

Related posts:

Change Your Relationship to Food, Change Everything

Shift Out of Anxiety, Fear, and Depression

Real Health is More Than a Number

Shifting out of Fear, Anxiety, and Depression

This post provides practical physical, mental, and emotional tools you can use TODAY to start shifting out of emotions, like fear, anxiety, and depression. If you like this, stay in touch over in my Facebook community, Holistic Health for the Avid Adventurer, where I do free trainings on topics like this one. If you’re interested in strategic 1-1 support, schedule a free call and we’ll see if we’re a good fit. I would love to help you achieve your goals now or in the future! ~ Katie

There was a time in my life when I lacked the motivation to even get out of bed. I felt hopeless and overwhelmed. I knew I wasn’t living the life I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to get out of my rut. I wanted to make better decisions for myself, and when I failed to do so, day after day, I would feel even more frustrated.

This cycle repeated itself until I finally started to make tiny shifts each day, which compounded, eventually resulting in an entirely new way of experiencing my day to day life. Having been in and out of this cycle multiple times, it’s now easier to recognize when I’m falling into a funk, and I now have a set of tools that get be back into an optimal state more quickly.

Having a toolkit of  physical practices and mental frameworks provides a means to move through these challenging emotions and into a place of greater personal power. From there, I’m much more effective at supporting those around me and acting in alignment with my truth. 

This post goes into some of those tools that have helped me shift out of anxiety, fear, anger, and despair. Feel free to take what works for you and leave the rest.

For a long time, I fell into the trap of believing that my mental and emotional suffering wasn’t “severe enough” to be worth addressing. I now realize that suffering is relative, and the world needs each of us feeling our best so we can show up to do the work we’re here to do, whether that’s through our jobs, or as parents, or by sharing our stories, etc. 

It’s important to note that our physical, emotional, and mental health are intricately intertwined. When one is suffering, the other pillars inevitably suffer as well. For instance, when you’re treating your body like crap, you’re less emotionally and mentally resilient. We’ll get more into why that is in a minute. 

Finally, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t feel our emotions. I think it’s important to feel, to acknowledge, and to work through them, but not to get stuck in them.

Why do I feel like crap?

Before I get into the practices that help move me into a better mental and emotional state, here are some factors I’ve identified that consistently contribute to feeling less than ideal. When I notice myself in a slump, I can usually find one or more of these at play.

  • I’m caring too much about fitting in or meeting someone else’s expectations or being “perfect” … essentially, I’m giving other people’s/society’s opinions too much weight.
  • I’m hyper focused on myself, my needs, and my own experience.
  • I’m taking myself too seriously.
  • I’m creating the illusion that I’m alone.
  • I’m viewing my own sensitivity as a weakness rather than a gift.
  • I’m acting out of alignment with my value system.
  • I’m not supporting my physical body (e.g. under- or overeating; not enough sun; not getting out in nature; not making time for rest and pleasure.

Based on the above, you might guess that some of the strategies for moving into a different state are essentially the opposite of the root causes.

How do I shift my mental and emotional state?

Physical Practices

  • Focus on eating real food. This means whole foods, like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, legumes, and salmon. Cut back on hormone-disrupting, inflammatory foods, like processed sugar. Quit dieting. Learn how to tune into genuine hunger and how to stop when satiated. For an explanation on why real food supports better mental health, read up on the food-mood connection, the role of the microbiome in neurotransmitter production, and the effects of blood sugar stabilization on mood. 
  • Don’t overcaffeinate.  
  • Move the body daily, from a place of joy, not punishment. 
  • Daily time in nature, ideally with some skin exposed to the sunlight. 
  • Serve others. Even if that just means holding the door for someone. 

Emotional + Mindset Practices

  • Give up perfectionism. As Brene would say, “Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be, and embrace who you are”. Perfection is a myth and chasing it stems from a feeling of not being ‘enough’, just as I am. So, I focus on the root of why that feeling is there in the first place.
  • Daily practices that rewire my brain towards seeing the positive. The negativity bias is the notion that we’re hard-wired to look for dangers and threats in our environment. For me, a daily journal session focused on anything that’s going right in my life (even if it’s the tiniest thing) slowly trains my brain to find the positive. 
  • Cultivate resilience by framing challenges as lessons and as an essential part of becoming my most whole, expressed self.
  • Raise my self awareness through personal development work.
  • Reframe sensitivity and empathy as a gift and learn to set boundaries appropriately.
  • Define what matters to me and what my values are. Act accordingly.
  • Zoom out to see the bigger picture. I have a Pale Blue Dot print which reminds me that this life is short and fleeting, and that my ‘problems’ are probably not as big as they seem in the grand scheme of things. 

Is it selfish to spend time on self care?

I believe that having compassion for others goes hand in hand with having compassion for ourselves. When I take care of myself, I’m better equipped to take care of others. Remember, it’s not selfish to put your own oxygen mask on first.

Related Posts:

Staying grounded during times of uncertainty

Stress eating: Why we do it and how to stop

The impact of happiness on health & how to create more of it

Choose a Protein Bar That’s Actually Healthy

performance

You’re strolling down the ‘bar aisle’ at the grocery store. You know the one. The one with all the ‘energy bars’ and the ‘protein bars’ and the ‘meal replacement bars’ and ‘snack bars’, and… 

Perhaps, like me, this aisle overwhelms you a bit. But you need to stock your pantry for those mornings when you have to run out the door without breakfast, or maybe you need to refill your stash for your next weekend backpacking trip, so you start scanning the shelves. 

“Holy cow,” you think, “are there even more options than the last time I was here??”

New bar brands are hitting the shelves every day, and while this is great for adding variety when you inevitably get sick of your current favorite, it’s also overwhelming when you’re looking for one that’s going to power you up the mountains or through a long day of work. 

How do you choose one that’s healthy? How do you find one that’s not just a candy bar in sheep’s clothing? (If you’re going for a candy bar, that’s your call – just don’t pay protein bar prices for what’s essentially a well-marketed candy bar – e.g. those ‘nutrition’ bars with more sugar than a Snickers. #healthwashing.)

Why Protein + How Much?

First, what’s the big deal with protein? In short, it’s essential for every living being. You need it for proper immune function, and for muscle repair and recovery. It helps stabilize your blood sugar (and therefore, your energy levels) and keeps you full longer. It also carries electrolytes into and out of cells, and is a building block for muscles, skin, bones, and blood. 

How much do you need? There are a lot of opinions on this question. Protein needs vary based on gender, activity level, and your goals (weight loss, muscle gain, maintenance). The Recommended Daily Allowance is 0.8 grams per kilogram (1kg = 2.2 lbs, so that’s 0.36 grams per pound) of bodyweight. Personally, I feel best when I eat in the range of 0.6-0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. It’s generally recommended that more active individuals eat more protein.

How do I choose one?

Here are 3 steps I use for bar selection + tips on when to use different bars based on your goals (recovery, muscle building, weight loss, etc.).

  1. Look at Ingredients

At a very basic level, look for whole, real foods; things you can readily identify, such as almonds, dates, oats, prunes, hemp seeds, cocoa powder, and so on. The ingredients should be simple and as close to the form found in nature as possible. 

  1. Consider Your Goals

What are your needs? Are you looking for a snack bar to tide you over until dinner? Or for a meal replacement? Do you plan to eat it while you’re being active, like on a long run or a hike? It’s helpful to know how and when you intend to use the bar because it can influence what you’re looking at in step 3.

  1. Scan the Nutrition Label

Look at the protein. To me, a protein bar should have, at minimum, 5 grams of protein. If you’re looking for a meal replacement bar or one to use when you’re exercising strenuously or during heavy lifting, look for 20+ grams of protein. If you’re on a specialty diet (e.g. vegan), look at the source of the protein and choose accordingly (e.g. avoid whey if vegan).

Look at the fiber. I generally prefer bars with 6+ grams of fiber. This keeps you full until your next meal, stabilizes blood sugar, and promotes a healthy gut microbiome. Fruit and nut-based bars generally have more fiber.

Consider calorie ranges. When searching for a snack bar in my day to day life, I’ll look for bars in the 200-calorie range. If it’s a meal replacement bar, 300-400 calories is a better choice, assuming I want it to keep me full until my next meal. If I’m on a thru-hike, I look for the highest calorie per ounce bar I can get.

Evaluate the Protein to Carbohydrate Ratio

Okay, just a little simple math required on this one. If you’re interested in losing weight, a bar with a 1:1 or 2:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio would be a good choice. If you want to build muscle, or improve workout recovery, or get a burst of quick energy, anywhere between a 1:2 to a 1:4 protein to carbohydrate ratio is what I’d look for. 

What to Avoid

There are a few things to avoid, if possible. One is sugar alcohols, like xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol, as these can cause bloating and cramps. I’d also steer clear of trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors.

Final pro tip, find a handful of brands that suit your criteria and stock up on multiple flavors, because you will inevitably get sick of them. Having a rotation at least slows that process. Knowing some go-to brands makes future shopping trips faster and less overwhelming. Having a criteria for selection, as outlined above, makes the process quicker if you’re in a new store and you can’t find your go-to brands. 

I believe in meeting our nutritional needs through food first, but when you need an on-the-go meal or snack option, healthy protein bars can be a healthy option. You just have to know what to look for 🙂

You can find some of my go-to options here!

To join our free Healthy Ultralight Meal Planning eCourse, CLICK HERE.

Cusa Cold Brew Coffee Review

coffee

Outdoor physical activity and good organic coffee. These two ingredients have been cornerstones in my life for as long as I can recall. Unfortunately, when I’m out for a full day of play in the outdoors, good coffee usually isn’t readily available. If it is, the options tend to leave much to be desired. At least that was the case until recently. Enter Cusa coffee’s new instant cold brew.

I have thousands of backpacking miles under my belt fueled by Cusa’s instant premium teas, so I’m familiar with their quality standards. And while I genuinely enjoy the taste and health benefits of premium tea, there are times when only a good cup of coffee will do. However, the instant coffee market is limited, and the options I was familiar with left much to be desired in terms of flavor and quality.

Why Quality Coffee Matters

After years of working as a barista at many different coffee shops, and being fortunate enough to drink coffee that’s in the top 1% worldwide in terms of quality, my standards are high. Unfortunately, this means gas station coffee and cheap instant packets no longer cut it.

I realize my coffee snobbery level probably sounds off the charts right now, so let me explain. When it comes to coffee (and tea), quality really does matter. Aside from organic being better for the environment, it’s also better for you. Conventional coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated crops in the world, being sprayed with a myriad of chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides, all with questionable safety profiles. Due to the known ability of agricultural chemicals to cause a large number of negative health effects, I like to avoid them when I can. 

Furthermore, mold toxicity (via mycotoxins) is a real concern for coffee drinkers. You know that jittery, anxious feeling that you sometimes feel after you drink coffee? It may be an issue of quantity (too much), but often it’s due to the mold and chemical contamination. For these reasons, drinking a quality source is important to me. In that regard, Cusa’s new cold brew fits my needs.

Coffee Review

I had the opportunity to sample several of Cusa’s new instant coffee varieties, including the Dark Roast, Medium Roast, Vanilla Dark Roast, and Lemon Dark Roast. When evaluating an instant coffee, there are a few key factors I’m examining. These include taste, dissolvability in hot and cold water, quality (organic), and convenience (single serving packets).

With Cusa’s instant cold brew coffees, all are 100% organic, arabica coffee, satisfying my need for quality. They come in single serving packets that are intended to be mixed with 8-10 ounces of water, according to the instructions. I like my coffee pretty strong, so using ~6 ounces of water or multiple packets in a larger amount of water, depending on my caffeine needs, was the way to go.

I tested some of the varieties in cold water and some in hot water and each dissolved completely, either instantly or with a small bit of agitation (e.g. stirring or shaking in a jar/bottle). That part is crucial for my needs on trail since I want the ease of simply dumping a packet into my water bottle, shaking and caffeinating. Sometimes I carry a stove, but often I don’t, so cold water dissolvability is key for me. 

I tested the Medium Roast in 6 ounces of cold almond milk. It dissolved well and the taste was strong and paired perfectly with the nut milk. The Dark Roast I tested in 8 ounces of hot water and found it to be full bodied with a balanced flavor. That one was probably my favorite. For the Vanilla Dark Roast, I used 8 ounces of hot water. The vanilla flavor was well balanced, but the brew was not full bodied enough for my taste, and I’ll reduce the volume of liquid next time. I prepared the Lemon Dark Roast in 8 ounces of cold water. The lemon is quite apparent and while I personally did not care for this flavor combination, I can see how one might find it quite refreshing on a hot afternoon.

I will always love the ritual of making a hot cup of french press or stove top espresso at home, but there are myriad ways Cusa’s coffee makes my on-the-go caffeine needs more convenient. I can stash a few packets in my day pack for a day in the mountains or on the river. I also keep a few packets in my glove box ICCE (in case of caffeine emergency). And Cusa’s tea and/or coffee packets are the ideal choice to send myself in resupply boxes for my multi-month thru-hikes. I also envision these being great for long travel days when I’m not interested in paying $6 for a cup of crappy airport coffee (which is always).

In addition to Cusa’s new caffeine free herbal line of teas (which are also excellent), I’m genuinely excited for the recent addition of premium cold brew coffee to the Cusa family. 


In full disclosure, I’m an affiliate for Cusa and this coffee was sent to me for review. That said, I wouldn’t be an affiliate for a company I didn’t fully believe in. If you’re interested in trying any of their premium products, get 15% off with code KATIEGERBER at checkout.

Stress Eating: Why it Happens & How to Stop

stress eating tips

Hitting the pantry more often than normal these days?

If so, take solace in the fact that you’re definitely not alone. AND you’re completely (biologically) normal. Stress, anxiety, boredom, grief, and procrastination are just a few of the many reasons that we eat when we’re not physically hungry. Here are some practical tools to navigate emotional eating with more intention and ease. 

This post is not about telling you that emotional eating is ‘wrong’. As with anything, you decide what’s best for you. If this is a behavior you’re engaging in and it’s not serving you, here’s a compilation of tips that are supporting me and that I hope will also serve you. 

Why do we stress eat?

It’s not that you just ‘have no will power’. The fact is, we’re biologically wired to eat more when we’re under emotional duress. 

This article cites three science-backed reasons that underlie stress eating. To summarize, the first reason is that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (aka the fight or flight response). When the SNS is activated, we reach for quick hits of glucose (ie. sugary, snacky foods). The second reason is that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for impulse control, doesn’t work as efficiently during stress. We’re, therefore, less able to resist the call of the pantry. The third reason we eat under stress is because when our brain senses danger, the threat response system within our brains is activated. Sugary and fatty foods can dampen this response and temporarily make us feel comforted. 

Fortunately, we can use the following strategies to coax the nervous systems back into parasympathetic (aka rest and digest) mode, so that we can make better decisions. Notice that these tactics are focused on reducing stress as opposed to taking a food-focused. This is a root cause approach. Go for the cause (stress), not the symptoms (overeating, snacking, emotional eating). These are taken directly from this post

Take a Breath

As soon as you find yourself with a craving, simply stop and take a few breaths:

  • Sit or lay comfortably with your back straight.
  • Place one hand over your stomach, just below the ribcage, and your other hand over your chest.
  • Inhale deeply for 3-8 seconds through the nostrils, directing all air to your belly. Only your stomach should lift or expand, not your chest.
  • Breathe out through your mouth for 3-8 seconds.
  • Repeat 3-10 times.

Get into Nature 

Just 20 minutes of exposure to nature has been shown to significantly lower stress hormone levels. Try to get out at least once a day, especially when you’re craving a snack. 

Engage in Meditation

Meditation being one of the most effective ways we can get ourselves out of stress mode and into a healthier physical state of being. 

Move Your Body to Reduce Food Cravings

Studies show that regular exercise helps reduce food cravings for up to a couple of hours even after you’ve finished exercising. It’s a bit of a double-whammy with exercise; it can help you reduce food cravings AND reduce your stress level with even short bouts of movement.

Additional tips to manage stress eating 

This post from Precision Nutrition offers the following 3 tips:

  1. Go ahead and overeat. The idea is to notice and track what is going on around the time you overeat (e.g. a long phone call with mom? A stressful work meeting? Going too long between meals? Alcohol?). This develops awareness around what triggers your overeating. It also removes the guilt and shame. If you’re “allowed” to overeat, it suddenly doesn’t feel so urgent, and perhaps you just have one or two cookies instead of the whole box. For more details on how to uncover your triggers, reference the full post. Once you’re aware of the trigger, decide what to do about it.
  1. Create a nourishment menu. This step provides tools to help when your triggers (see #1) are activated, and you want to break the trigger-response cycle. The idea is to ‘pick a thing (an action) to do before a thing (the stress eating). It’s called a nourishment menu because it contains options that nourish you in other ways, many of which we may be feeling deprived of right now (time in nature, movement, fresh air, sunlight, connection, etc.). Examples include: take 3 deep breaths, drink a big glass of water, mentally check for signs of physical hunger, play with your pet for 5 minutes, do some quick stretches, listen to a favorite song, go for a short walk, do some housework, journal). Think of non-food things that offer the sense of relief you were seeking from the food. To make it more likely you’ll do it, put your list on the fridge, and make your menu items as easy and quick to accomplish as possible.
  1. Take a self compassionate approach. This means an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness towards yourself. This tip helps you understand that your behavior around food doesn’t define you as a person. Right now, it makes sense that you may not be eating (or exercising, or working, or living) the way you normally do.

But feeling bad about being out of your routine could make stress eating even worse. So don’t beat yourself up. And don’t make “perfection” the goal. Self compassion is giving yourself a break, being honest and seeing the big picture, being kind to yourself. It’s not giving yourself a permanent ‘get out of jail free’ card, ignoring your problems, or letting yourself off the hook. 

And if you still decide to eat the snack, portion out the food you want into a bowl, sit down, and eat it mindfully.

A few more ideas

  • Guard your mind carefully. Reduce incoming stress-inducing media by turning off your TV, monitoring news consumption, and reducing social media use.
  • Start your day with a ritual and visualize yourself making health supporting choices. 
  • Eat whole meals which include fiber, fat, and protein to keep your blood sugar balance. Start the day with protein to avoid the tendency to overeat later. 
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand and easily accessible. If there’s a certain food you tend to overeat, don’t keep it in the house. 
  • Create a meal plan, including snacks, and stick to it.
  • Set up your work space away from the kitchen.

There’s a lot here. Pick one or two ideas to focus on for now. Keep what works and leave the rest. 

Rewiring our psychology around food is complex. It’s an ongoing practice. My own messed up relationship to food + my body goes way back, and yes, I still stress eat. But it helps to have tools. 

May we all be more gentle with ourselves.  

Related post:
Change your relationship to food & change everything. 

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