Tools and Tips For Staying Fit When Stressed

Reduce Stress and Weight at the Same Time!

Staying fit while stressed is easier than you may think. khoa vu/ Getty Images

When stressed, many people tend to put on more weight for various reasons, including mindless munching, sweets cravings, and an emotional desire for "comfort food." Between emotional eating and a feeling of being too exhausted for exercise, stressed people can find it more challenging to stay fit.  Fortunately, there’s something you can do to curtail weight gain and even get more fit while reducing stress at the same time.

For staying fit when stressed, I recommend the following:

Relaxation Techniques:

You can stop the damage caused by chronic stress with the regular practice of relaxation techniques. These can trigger the relaxation response, which stops the cascade of changes that can occur when you’re stressed, including changes that contribute to weight gain. Some of my favorite relaxation techniques include yoga, martial arts, journaling, laughter, and PMR. (Okay, and sex.) Here’s a complete selection of relaxation techniques you can use to reduce your stress level—and your weight gain.

Practice Mindful Eating:

This is one of the best ways to combat stress eating: really focus on your food when you eat.  Really notice the flavor, texture, and taste.  Take small bites and really savor them.  Really feel the sensation of your food going down, and focus on the present moment.  This will help you to more easily notice if you're eating when you're not hungry.

 This can also be a practice in stress management, so you can use mindful eating to combat future stress eating.  Here's how to practice mindful eating.

Healthy Munchies:

When stressed, many people tend to eat more, and crave foods that are high in salt, sugar, and fat. If you find yourself prone to the munchies when you’re feeling the crunch of stress, if it seems too hard to control your cravings, you can really help yourself by switching to more healthy fare for snacking.

The following have worked for many:

  • Carrot sticks have a satisfying crunch, and are good for you, too. Dipped in low-fat ranch, they’re packed with flavor and aren’t too bad for your bod.
  • Edamame, a type of snackable soy bean, is delicious, healthy, and fun to eat, if you get the variety that’s still in the pod.
  • Sunflower seeds (try low-salt or unsalted varieties for better health) have protein and nutrients, and are pretty yummy. If you get them in the shell, they give your hands something to do, and it’s hard to eat too many when you have to shell each one.
  • Rather than popping open a can of soda, which is packed with empty calories and sugar, which can send you on a downward spiral of mood swings later, opt for sparkling water; you’ll feel like you’re getting a treat, and your body will, too.
  • There’s always gum. If you’re a discreet chewer, you can turn one of those snacking sessions—ones where you’re really not hungry but want something in your mouth—into guilt-free flavorful fun. Just try not to blow too many bubbles if you’re at the office.

Eat At Home:

Another reason busy, stressed people tend to gain weight is that they more often eat fast food; after a busy day running around, you may not have time to come home and cook something from scratch.

But meals you make are usually much better for you. And cooking at home can save you money, too, which may indirectly decrease your stress level by putting you under less financial strain. And it’s easier than you think. This article contains some great tips to help you eat more meals at home.

Work Activity Into Your Life:

Do you want to work out, but find yourself short the extra hours a week it would take to go to the gym? You may be able to remedy this with time management techniques, or you can work exercise into your life by finding simple ways to move more. Taking the stairs rather than the elevator, for example, or going for a walk during your lunch break are easy ways to do this.

You can also park further away from wherever it is you go, forcing yourself to walk a little more before you get to your destination. You can even stop, drop, and do a few sets of push-ups every hour or two to keep your blood moving and slowly build muscle. You can get more exercise at home by doing active housework, playing active games with your kids.

Turn Off The T.V.:

Or at least be selective. Rather than chilling in front of the tube because you’re too exhausted to do anything else, only to look up hours later and realize you’ve wasted most of your evening and didn’t get much lasting benefit from the experience, see if you can unwind with some soothing music. Chances are, you won’t spend as much time listening to music as you would flipping from show to show, and you might end up doing something more creative or productive with your time, like journaling, calling a friend, or spending quality time with your kids or spouse. (Next time you think about things you wish you had time to do, remember the time you could free up with less television!) If there are shows you really don’t want to miss, at least record them ahead of time, so you can watch them at your convenience, fast-forward through commercials, and then turn the T.V. off.

Once you incorporate some or all of these simple strategies into your life, staying fit when stressed should be much less of a challenge. And, best of all, you can experience less stress and better health in the process!

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