By the Bariatric Nutrition Team

It’s a new year and you’ve set some fitness goals. You’re eating healthier and exercising, determined to lose some weight and get into better shape. But then life happens – stress at work, at home, on the roads.

At times we use food to deal with our stress and emotions, whether it’s chocolate, candy or an indulgence of carbohydrates. Food has the ability to console us – but it can also sabotage our healthy diets.

Studies have shown that chronic stress (i.e. a traffic jam during the morning commute, rushing to meet a deadline at work and ending the day with family issues at home) can lead to the desire to consume comfort foods. Researchers hypothesize that this “pleasure seeking behavior” is your body’s attempt to give itself a much needed break. The problem, this behavior can thwart our weight loss efforts.

“Comfort foods” vary per person. Some have a sweet tooth, others crave bread, some opt for the double cheeseburger and some seek foods that remind them of their childhood (a time when we felt safe and happy, a time when life was all about play dates). The big question, how do we fight our body’s natural inclination to indulge in unhealthy foods?

Here are a few steps:

  1. Call in the replacements. Look for healthier alternatives. If you crave sweets, try fresh fruits. If you yearn for spicy flavors, prepare your own dishes using Mrs. Dash seasonings. If chocolate is your vice, try a chocolate flavored protein shake.
  2. Get active. Avoid the craving by stepping away from the kitchen and into your running shoes (to run or walk your stress away). The rhythmic pace and the focus on your breath can be a calming distraction.
  3. Set a new standard. Start experimenting in the kitchen with healthy recipes and make it a family affair so you can redefine “comfort food” in your household.
  4. Give yourself a break. Accept that you are not perfect and at times your body’s cravings may win. What’s done is done but the key is your reaction. Will you exacerbate the stress by being hard on yourself for making the mistake or will you take positive steps toward getting back on track with your fitness goals?