Diet Tips For The Stressed


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Studies show that calorie restriction can be good for your longevity. Additionally, for those trying to lose weight (or stay the size they are), calorie restriction has been shown to be more effective in weight loss than exercise, though both are important. And because a balanced diet rich in certain nutrients can work to prevent many major illnesses, healthy eating may be the next major focus in health care.

But knowing the importance of maintaining a healthy diet is just part of the equation. Despite best intentions, many people find themselves falling short of their diet ideals due to various diet traps, or factors that may sneak in and sabotage a healthy diet. The following diet tips can help you to combat some of the main diet traps people encounter (most of which are stress related) and maintain a healthy diet that keeps you feeling great.

Emotional Eating

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Diet Trap: Emotional Eating

Eating for reasons that have more to do with your emotional hunger than your physical needs, a phenomenon dubbed emotional eating, can wreak havoc on an otherwise healthy diet. Emotional eaters may eat when bored (as a means of entertainment), when upset (instead of facing difficult emotions), or when generally dissatisfied with life (to fill a void). All these extra calories add up, especially when the grazing fare is junk food instead of carrot sticks.

Diet Tip: Deal With Your Emotions

First — and this may sound obvious, but often isn’t — you should get into the habit of always asking yourself if you’re really hungry when you’re reaching for food. If you find that your hunger is more emotional than physical, take a few minutes to explore the feelings behind the pangs. One of the best ways to do this is on paper, via journaling, which has been shown to be a very effective tool in dealing with emotions, brainstorming solutions, and enhancing overall health. Once you address the underlying issues, food won’t have the same pull, and you probably won’t feel tempted as often.(You can also read more on the benefits of journaling and journaling techniques.)

Feelings Of Deprivation

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Diet Trap: Feelings of Deprivation

Sometimes the simple act of going on a diet can intimately acquaint you with one of life’s hard truths: we often want what we can’t have — and the more unavailable the object of our desire, the stronger the desire grows! (Doesn’t a bag of chips take on a whole new aura of delectability on the second day of a low-carb diet?) For some people, even foods that they normally didn’t notice too much begin to play "road-runner" to their "Wile E. Coyote" — that is, they become the object of obsession, which can be like an anvil dropped on the head of a healthy diet.

Diet Tip: Use Substitution

If this sounds familiar, there are a few remedies that can help. First, be sure that you pick a diet you feel you can stick to. For you, this would probably include many choices and lots of "wiggle room" rather than a rigid schedule of planned-out meals. Next, have a list of healthy substitutions handy. If you suddenly really crave soda, go with Perrier, which is a healthy substitution that delivers hydration, bubbles, and an occasion to use ice and a straw, without the sugar or sugar-substitutes found in cola (not to mention the caffeine)! For more ideas, see this list of diet substitutes from our Nutrition Site.


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Diet Trap: Perfectionism

You wouldn’t normally think of perfectionism as a threat to your diet, would you? Many people believe that perfectionists, with their focus on doing everything perfectly, would be the best dieters, but there’s one problem that many dieters face, and perfectionists are especially vulnerable: When there’s a diet slip-up, perfectionists are likely to slide downhill and not recover, since their "perfect record" has been shot. (How often have you found yourself rationalizing, “Oh, why not, I’m already off my diet anyway!”)


Diet Tip: Think In Terms of Averages

While it’s easy to rationalize that one good cookie deserves another, you can save yourself from allowing one moment of weakness to wreck a whole diet by thinking in terms of averages rather than perfection: after falling short of your diet one day (or meal), you can make up for it with the next by eating extra-healthy. When you provide yourself with a route to redemption, a diet slip-up can actually work for you in terms of future motivation! 

Special Circumstances

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Diet Trap: Special Circumstances

How many times have you been doing great with your diet until something unexpected throws you off your game? Whether it’s a positive event (“Who can stay on a diet at a time like this? We need to celebrate!”), a social event (“ Who can stay on a diet at a party like this? Pass the dip!”), or a crisis (“Who can stay on a diet during times like this? A piece of cake will help me feel better.”), special circumstances can throw a wrench into a healthy diet.

Diet Tip: Try Small Portions

Let’s face it—some circumstances are more challenging than others, and you don’t want your diet to interfere too much with your life. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel you really can’t stick to your diet (or just don’t want it badly enough), it’s best to indulge, but on a small scale. Rather than taking it as license to throw your diet out the window (see perfectionism), you can probably have nibbles of a few less healthy foods and maintain the feel of the occasion, but still stick close to your diet ideals. Giving yourself a little permission now and then can keep you from abandoning your diet altogether, so it’s a good trade-off for the long haul.

Stress-Induced Cravings

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Diet Trap: Stress-Induced Cravings

The stress response can bring physiological changes that can cause cravings for sweet and salty foods. Also, diets themselves can be stressful, and if you’re already exhausted from a stressful day, you may have less energy to fight against your cravings. Because unhealthy eating can exacerbate your reactivity to stress, sticking to a healthy diet is most important at just this time.


Diet Tip: Stress Management

Because stress can sabotage a diet (and contribute to weight gain, making for a bigger diet struggle), stress management can be a very effective secret weapon for your diet. If you reverse your body’s stress response, you’ll be more effective in staying with your diet, and you’ll feel better as you do it. The following are my most popular and effective stress relief tools:

  • Feeling Overwhelmed?
    Much of the damage of chronic stress occurs because the body’s stress response is triggered and the body doesn’t get back in balance for quite a while. These quick exercises can help your body get back to equilibrium more quickly so that stress doesn’t lead to physical damage.
  • Stress Relief Personality Tool
    The best way to stick with a stress relief practice is to pick one that works well with your personality and lifestyle so that it takes less work to maintain as a habit. This tool can help you find stress relievers that should work best for you and your needs.

Stress System Malfunction Could Lead To Serious, Life-Threatening Disease. NIH Backgrounder September 9, 2002.

Bonus Diet Tips

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Bonus Diet Tips:
VeryWell has several sites devoted to helping you piece together a diet plan that will work for you, and sticking to it. The following sites can be especially helpful:

  • Low Carb Diets
    Laura Dolson can help you understand Atkins, South Beach, and all the other hot low carb diets, and apply low carb principles to your eating.
  • Weight Loss
    Malia Frey has information as well as real-world tips you can use to reach your weight loss goals and maintain your ideal weight.
  • Nutrition
    Shereen Jegtvig, a certified nutrition specialist, has resources and information to help you better understand how nutrition affects your body and consuming a more nutritious diet.

And don’t forget to manage the stress in your life! 

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