Curb food cravings during stressful times

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(BPT) - Do you reach for comfort foods or junk food when you’re stressed? You know you shouldn't, but you probably feel you need something to help you during that intense period. With a few tips from culinary experts, you can cut the cravings and find healthy ways to manage nutrition during stressful times.

"In moments of stress, people tend to reach for foods they know, sometimes even favorite foods from childhood. It is certainly not a time when we choose to experiment," says Chef Odette Smith-Ransome, chef instructor at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

If traveling, you may often search for a familiar restaurant or fast food place. It's easier to reach for food that you know because it provides a level of comfort to balance out the uncomfortable moments of stress, Smith-Ransome says.

Chef Christine Neugebauer of The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, advises that when traveling, pack your own beverages. By doing this, you can choose water, green tea and non-sugary juices. She also warns against hotels’ continental breakfasts. Be careful what you choose, because a small meal like yogurt or an orange may be all you need. Choosing a smaller plate will also prevent you from filling up on extra calories.

It all comes down to food choices where stress and food are concerned. When stressed, you are more likely to make a quick, bad choice. “Make sure when you shop you buy healthier foods. So when you need something, that is what you are going to eat,” says Neugebauer.

"The vicious cycle of guilt regarding our eating habits steps in and worsens the current stress situation," Smith-Ransome says. "Add guilt to the situation, and the stress levels increase - compounding the problem."

Smith-Ransome warns that when stressed, one should stay away from caffeine and sugar. It's easy to grab an energy drink or a candy bar because they're accessible and in every convenience and drug store in America. Once the rush is gone from sugary, caffeine-packed foods, you're facing a crash unless you continue to eat and drink to keep your body in the high. Continuing to eat and drink these products will compound the situation even more because you then become sleep-deprived, which raises the levels of anxiety and slows you down.

The best way to attack bad eating choices during a moment of stress is to maintain your body and mind at equilibrium. Before an important interview, presentation or exam, try eating whole foods and complete meals, and forget about the bag of cookies. While these satiate the appetite at the moment, it certainly won't keep your blood-sugar levels stable, making it difficult to cope with your initial problem: high stress.

Neugebauer recommends packing a snack or eating a healthy meal that will last, and small meals throughout the day keep you from getting hungry.

It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to communicate with your mind that you are full. Neugebauer emphasizes the importance of drinking water when gauging your hunger level. She says, “sometimes you think you’re hungry and you’re not. If you drink some water, then you may not be hungry anymore.” By making informed, careful food choices during times of stress, you can help ensure what you eat doesn't add extra calories, fat and poor nutrition to your worries.

For more information about The Art Institutes, visit artinstitutes.edu.