When Stress Takes Over

I had a game plan.

I was going to eat my avocado, cucumber smoothie for breakfast, my bok choi tofu soup for lunch, and chicken with cauliflower rice and salad for dinner. How prepared is that? A fool proof day if you ask me...

I got into work at 8am and opened up my email.

My inbox looked horrendous and it was T-minus 3 hours before I had a big cooking demonstration in front of 30 very important people. My job depended on a cool, calm, and fun presentation and I was racing against the clock to prepare for it.

I immediately felt my stress hormone, cortisol, surge through my blood. My heart started racing and I felt the animal-like survival instincts come out of me.

You see, when cortisol goes up, your body goes into survival mode and the body's physiology starts to change. Blood leaves the digestive tract and goes to prepare you for fight or flight, instead of rest and digest (which is why most people get bloating and stomach cramps under stress). Hormones shift and cravings ignite. Your taste bud receptors change shape to intensify the taste of sweetness. Signals are sent from your hippocampus in the brain to dull willpower. This is a survival mechanism to encourage consumption of energy-dense food, in case you have to run from a wild animal or make it through a stressful scenario.

The anxiety of getting everything done in time made me want to retreat to snack time for safety. I wasn't actually hungry, but all of the sudden, my brain and body switched to auto-pilot... and the sabotage began.

I went straight for my easy grab and go options that were only intended to be snacks to get me by when I needed it. It was all downhill from there. The fresh and fit meal plan I had was long forgotten as I became hyper focused on the delicious coconut yogurt I had made, along with too many cinnamon roasted walnuts. I know it's not the worst food choice you could make but I definitely don't want to count those calories. It became my breakfast... snack.... lunch....snack.. and probably dinner if I hadn't been too full to even think about a "dinner."

The slowed down digestion along with bad food choices left me with 24 hours of stomach pains.

The excess calories made me sleepy and unfocused.

Getting in my 8 - 8oz glasses of water was the last thing on my mind so pairing that with salty walnut snacks made me dehydrated with a dull migraine and feeling - "off."

On top of all that, the stress of not having a great eating day affected my sleep and overall happiness the entire day.

I clearly didn't honor my body or my needs. What a domino effect.

We all have different reasons why we sabotage our goals. But the beauty in this life is that we can use it as valuable learning lessons to get to know ourselves better and become more receptive to our needs go from mindless and destructive to mindful and loving. Here's what I learned....

1. Remove the judgement and back it up. Rewind the situation and non-judgmentally explore what went wrong. We all make mistakes.. but are you brave enough to learn from them? If not, it's likely that it will happen again.

2. Separate "you" from your mind and its survival mechanisms. I finally stopped the sabotaging cycle when I transformed my point of view. Instead of being a victim and at the mercy of stress, I stepped outside of my self-talk to observe it. When my cravings still lasted but I knew I wasn't hungry, I thought..."okay, you've had a stressful day. These cravings are a completely normal survival mechanism. I understand why I feel un-satiated. It's completely normal and expected under stress." It removed my victim mentality and helped me think more clearly and rationally.

3. Pause, breath, and ask,"what do I really need?" Before going to auto-pilot mode, pausing and taking 3-deep breaths is GAME CHANGING. Research shows that deep breaths immediately lower cortisol levels to dull intensified cravings.

Ask yourself, "what do I really need? How can I take care of myself better?" 9 times out of 10, it probably won't be a snack. When we eat out of stress one of two things will happen... either you eat until the food is gone or the stress is gone. So dig deep to figure out what you need so you're not soothing the stress with food until there's no more food left to eat. Maybe it's a few deep breaths, a brief walk, a little sunshine, or just an organized to-do list to manage stress.

Bring your mind out of the dark, and back into the light.

What do you do when stress takes over? How can you take care of yourself better?

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