Why You Stress Eat, And How To Stop (Part 2: Solutions)

Hey Folks,

In last weeks blog we looked at how your body responds to a stressful events in ways that lead you to have food cravings. We also discussed why the stress response can make you more impulsive, and cause you to lose touch with your long term goals like fat loss.

Lastly we explained the hormones that regulate your appetite, and how in a state of chronic stress they become dysfunctional which leaves you feeling hungrier and less satisfied after meals.

Today we’re covering the top 5 strategies you can in your everyday life to better manage your nutrition during stressful times.  


1.) Face What’s Stressing You Out, Instead Of Trying To Distract With Food:

If you’re stressed about something rather than trying to suppress those feelings with food, you need to address the actual source of stress that causing the urge to overeat.

Honestly if you can do this on a more consistent basis when you’re feeling stressed you won’t really need the other tips in the this blog because you’ll be addressing the root of the problem.

Far too often when people feel stressed it’s because they know there’s something in life they need to be taking action on, but aren’t.

I recently dealt with this when I switched the business model for my nutrition practice. It seemed like such a big change with so much to do that I let it  stress me out instead of taking action.

To deal with the stress I set a date, and came up with an action game plan of mini tasks I had to get done on a weekly basis to have the new business model in place by my deadline.

Commit to taking one small action that will get you closer to solving what’s stressing you out. Taking action alleviates stress and fear because you’re too busy with solving the problem to worry about it.

2.) Don’t Keep Trigger Food In The House:

As we spoke about in the last blog when you’re in a stressed state you’re more likely to have diminished willpower and  be impulsive.

This impulsive behavior especially applies when it comes to stress eating,  which is why if it’s in the house, and you’re tempted... you’ll eat it.

The easy fix is to identify the foods you have a history of overeating when you’re stressed, or that you have a hard time controlling your intake of and not keep them in the house.

I’ve mentioned it before, but that trigger food for me is peanut butter. I can use a spoon or a bag of plantain chips and tear through half a jar of peanut butter with ease.

My solution is that I don’t buy it all that often, especially if I’m dieting or cutting any kind of weight. I’ll also use the powdered peanut butter instead of regular as it has the flavor i love with far fewer calories.

3.) Journaling (HALTS):

For my clients who deal with significant food cravings I’ll have them carry a food journal in their bag. When they feel tempted I ask them to set a 5 minute timer and do a journal session before making any decisions.

The HALTS acronym is something I learned from my friend and mentor Luka. It stands for Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired-Stressed. This helps the journaler identify what emotion is causing their food craving.

I like my clients to identify which HALTS emotion is driving them to want to emotionally eat before they start the journaling process.

This way they can connect the emotion with the craving, and realize that it’s an emotional hunger, not a physical one.

For some folks the act of writing down what’s on their mind, and what emotions they’re feeling is cathartic for them. It helps you to  recognize and relieve stress rather than ignore or suppress it with food.

4.) Call A Friend and Make Plans:

When people stress eat, they’re looking for a form of comfort and a way to alleviate the negative feelings they’re experiencing.  

By connecting with someone you care about  over the phone or meeting up and grabbing dinner this can help to squelch the stress you’re feeling, and replace it with comfort.

Just make sure it’s not someone who stresses you out on a regular basis!

This also serves as a good distraction in the moment and will hopefully provide some belly laughs or a good conversation.

5.) Interrupt The Pattern:

The more you engage in specific habits, especially ones that trigger the reward center in your brain the more difficult they become to break.

There is a theory is neuroscience named Hebb’s Law  which is paraphrased by saying the neurons that fire together wire together.

This means the more you teach the brain that when A happens then B is the result your brain makes that connection much stronger, almost like a shortcut.

This makes it easy to understand that if you’ve engaged in stress eating for many years it can be a difficult habit to break, but it’s possible!

To break out of this vicious cycle you have to interrupt the pattern and through practice teach your brain that when you experience stress, eating hyper palatable foods is no longer the response.

In the beginning this can be uncomfortable and it’s going to take practice.

The next time you feel like you’re going to eat due to stress break that pattern.

Splash cold water in your face , go outside for a walk, get in your car and go for drive, take your journal to a nearby park and write for five minutes.

If you need help or want to chat about a specific issue you’re dealing with email me evolvent.pdx@gmail.com so we can troubleshoot your problem.


Alex “ Take A Deep Breath” McMahon

Do you Have A Slow Metabolism ? (Part 4: Hormonal Adaptations)

As we've discussed previously there are a number of ways that the metabolism will adapt throughout the process of dieting and losing weight. 

Today we're diverting our attention to looking at more of the hormonal shifts that take place during the different phases of a diet that can have an impact on everything from water retention thats masks real fat loss all the way down to your ability to recover from exercise. 

“Metabolic Damage” Is Actually An Adaptation…

There’s a specific component of your BMR that has very little to do with your weight, or the amount of weight you’ve lost.

This adaptation in BMR is more of a hormonal response to a calorie deficit, and while  you and I both know you’re not really starving to death when you diet, your body doesn’t know the difference between long period of low calories and slow starvation.

Because your body is intelligent and wants to keep you alive for as long as possible it finds ways to become more efficient and conserves more calories.

Most people would think the answer is to diet harder, but unfortunately that only causes the metabolism to adapt to an even greater degree to match calorie intake by lowering calorie expenditure even further.

Your body real doesn’t want you to maintain very low levels of body fat and will push back against this fat loss to return you to a state of balance by increasing your hunger hormones, making you more lethargic and sluggish and lowering your calorie burn at rest or during exercise.

The Hormonal Responses

When you create a calorie deficit for fat loss to happen there’s  going to be hormonal shifts that coincide with how aggressively you’re dieting.

If you got on a really low calories right away your hormones are going to make a much larger shift than if you took a slow and steady approach to dieting.

The main hormones affected by your dieting are going to be thyroid hormones, sex hormones and stress hormones such as cortisol.

We’re going to look at these hormones but I am not an endocrinologist and if you suspect you are dealing with hormonal dysregulation please seek out a professional and get the right tests done instead of reading a blog or newsletter on the topic.

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Thyroid Hormones

The main thyroid hormones we’re concerned with during the process of dieting are T4 (Thyroxine) and T3  (Triiodothyronine).

T4 is the inactive version of the thyroid hormone almost considered a pro- hormone, that only works when it’s converted to the active T3 hormone.

What is really important is that the concentration is equally as important as the conversion of the hormones, and dieting shows to cause a decrease in the active and usable thyroid hormone T3 which downshifts thyroid function.

Dieting on too low of calories for too long with excessive exercise will also cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This is not a good or bad hormones, but too much can cause some problems. When cortisol is chronically elevated it interferes, and hinders the conversion of the T4 to T3.

If you’re interested in a much more in depth breakdown of thyroid function, and the different hormones  let me know.

It is a very complicated gland and is tied to regulating a number of different functions in the body that span beyond what’s necessary for this blog.

Stress Hormone: Cortisol

You’ve likely heard some of the negative aspects of the stress hormone cortisol it’s not a “bad’ hormone in fact we need this hormone like all others in a specific balance.

The poison is in the dose with cortisol.

We need cortisol to help with muscle inflammation, provide energy, manage a stress response and even mood improvement.

However when you place too many external stressors on your body and lack the capacity to recover from them that’s when excess cortisol gets released and create dysfunction.

Stress is stress and comes from a number of different places such as emotional and psychological stressors, physical stressors like dieting too aggressively in combination with excess cardio and weights.

As mentioned above this excess cortisol can interfere with thyroid function by reducing the conversion of T4 to T3.

Excessive cortisol circulating  due to training like a bat out of hell on lower calories can cause water retention, and mask their true fat loss.

If you’re losing body fat, but you’re also retaining an extra 3-5 pounds of water because of stress then you may see no changes on the scale even though you’re actually losing fat, which can be maddening for people at times.

Carbohydrates are the best macronutrient to blunt the effects of cortisol which is why sometimes people will take a higher carb day and wake up lighter on the scale and leaner in the mirror.

Stay tuned for next week when we discuss the relationship aggressive dieting has to the hormone leptin and the sex hormones!

Why You Stress Eat, And How To Stop (Part 1)

When it comes to talking with clients or communicating with people online the biggest obstacle that derails their nutrition and fitness is stress, and negative emotions.

On a basic level we all have a certain amount of unavoidable stress in our lives, and some have more than others.

How people react to stress differs greatly from person to person, and some will crumble in stressful situations, while others keep their composure and even thrive in that state.

Stressors come in many shapes and sizes in our modern world, and when they’re compounded together it amplifies their negative effects.

In an overly stressed state, your dietary decisions will be impacted whether you realize it or not.

In today’s blog we’re going to take a closer look at the ways that stress can cause you to deviate from your nutrition plan, and make those decisions you regret that leave you asking “why did I do that”


Stress Explained

You’re probably thinking I know what stress is! And you’re right, but from a physiological standpoint you experience a lot more daily stress than you imagine.

Hans Selye the godfather of stress physiology defined it as “ the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made on it.”

In many regards anything that causes a disruption to your physiological balance known as homeostasis is considered a stressor.

It’s your response to stress that matters most, not what causes your response.

Because stress comes in such a wide variety and different forms you may not always recognize these stressors.  

Your body certainly does though.

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Acute Stress vs. Chronic stress

We are biologically equipped to handle short but intense bouts of stress followed by periods of rest and recovery.

Your ability to recover from stress determines whether you become more resilient or break down from that stressor.  

Unfortunately our modern lifestyle is one of chronic low grade stressors that happen all day long with little to no time to relax and recover.

Let’s use the analogy of car to help explain how this can create problems. When you drive a car it’s designed to handle to handle rapid acceleration (flooring it) occasionally.

However if you floor it every time you drive, eventually the engine will break or burn out.

Think of your body as the car and engine, and the gas pedal as your stress response. If you are stressed all the time eventually the body will go into a state of dysfunction to compensate for the overuse.

And you may be asking ok Alex, what the hell does this have to do with staying on track with my nutrition ?

Very glad you asked, I can be a chatty cathy sometimes let’s get down to it.

Stress and Impulse Control

The prefrontal cortex is the most evolved part of your brain that allows you to set long term goals and manage your actions to align with those long term goals.

Each time you’ve decided to not eat a tasty food like cookies or ice cream because you had a fat loss or health goal, that was the prefrontal cortex at work.

When your stress response is triggered, the hormone cortisol is released and inhibits the function of your prefrontal cortex.

The reason cortisol does this is in a real life or death situation being impulsive is a survival advantage.

When your life is being threatened your only focus should be acting quickly and managing and escaping immediate life threats.

For our ancestors the stress response used to be reserved for real life or death situations, not taxes and traffic jams.

As a result of the way your stress response evolved your ability to delay gratification and think of long term is not a  priority when the stress hormone cortisol is flooding the body and brain.

In essence your brain doesn’t give a shit if you eat a cookie, it cares about you staying alive long enough to pass on your genetics.

This impulsiveness is great for helping you to escape a real life dangerous situation, but not so much when you’re stressed out at work feeling tempted by the free doughnuts in the break room.


Mood Elevation

Believe it or not your body and brain don’t want you to always be a stressed out Debbie downer, and neither do I.

In an overly stressed state you’re less likely to procreate which from an evolutionary perspective is only second in importance to survival.

To help you elevate your mood, the brain will increase cravings for hyper palatable foods that will stimulate the reward center of your brain.

This extremely tasty and hyper palatable foods trigger the release dopamine, a hormone in the brain that makes you feel good.

The brain releases dopamine to encourage the behaviors that encourage your survival like eating sweet and fatty calorie dense foods or having sex.  

Dopamine is like a nice warm pat on the on the back that makes you feel good for doing  the right things from a survival and procreation standpoint.

Sugar and denser sources of carbohydrates elevate the hormone insulin which blunts the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

This blunting of the stress hormone cortisol and spiking of dopamine from the consumption of these sugary and fatty foods allows you to feel better, even if only for five minutes.


Stress Leptin and Ghrelin

Leptin and ghrelin are the two hormones in charge of regulating hunger and satiety. Leptin also plays a role in our energy regulation and metabolism, but that’s a different blog for a different day.

Leptin signals satiety to the brain and turns off hunger, while ghrelin stimulates hunger and encourages eating. They’re the yin and yang of your hunger and satiety.

In the presence of chronic stress leptin and ghrelin become dysfunctional.

High levels of cortisol from stress create leptin resistance in the brain which blocks the satiety signal.

As a result of leptin resistance your satiation and fullness from food will decrease.

Not a good thing when you’re trying to stay as full and satisfied as possible on a diet.  

When excessive cortisol is circulating due to stress, ghrelin is brought to an abnormally high level leading to a feeling of being overly hungry more frequently throughout the day.

In the presence of chronic stress you’ll  feel the need to eat more food due to increased ghrelin.

You will be  less satisfied with that food because of blocked leptin signaling, and make less healthy food choices  due to increased impulsivity and a need to elevate mood.

This is a powerful recipe for deviating from your nutrition plan and giving into stress and emotional eating.

Stay tuned as next week we’re going to cover the tips you can use to stay on track with your nutrition during stressful times in your life. 

The 21 Best Proven Fat Loss Tips (Part4)

Alright folks this is the very last installment in our 21 Best Proven Fat Loss Tips Series If you haven’t read the previous three newsletters in the series you can find Part 1 HERE and Part 2&3 HERE and HERE

This is going to be the last newsletter in our fat loss tips series, and I appreciate you all reading this far.This week we cover some of the best tips in this series, and ones that will have the largest impact when it comes to getting started and staying on course with your nutrition.

Fat Loss Tip # 17: Use Refeeds and Diet Breaks

This tip is going to be highly dependent on the individual, and how long you’ve been dieting.

For those who have been in an aggressive calorie deficit consistently for 8-12 weeks this is going to apply.

Trying to remain in a calorie deficit for a prolonged period of time can be a bad idea due to the impacts it has on leptin and thyroid function.

When you diet for a long period of time and lose body fat your levels of leptin, a hormone made in your fat cells is going to drop.

Leptin is a hormone that communicates with the brain about how much energy we have in reserves,, and helps regulate metabolic function.

When leptin levels drop the body is going to increase the hunger promoting hormone ghrelin.

When the body thinks it doesn’t have enough energy in reserves due to low leptin it will start to slow down many functions making fat loss more difficult.

Aside from lowered levels of leptin, dieting too long will have negative impact on your thyroid function and sex hormones.

To help restore hormones levels, and give yourself a psychological break there are two different methods you can implement: refeeds or diet breaks.

A refeed is a day or two per week depending on how lean you are where you purposefully increase your calories by 300-600.

This is not a “cheat” day because you’ll need to keep fat intake lower, and have the majority of these calories come from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the most effective macronutrient at boosting leptin and thyroid levels, which in essence prevents the metabolic adaptations that make fat loss more difficult.  

A full diet break is returning your calorie intake to a maintenance level for 1-2 weeks  after a 8-12 week period of eating for fat loss.

It should be noted that you will likely gain a few pounds of weight when on a diet break, and this especially true for people who have been using a low carb diet.

This is not a cause for concern as most of the weight will be from water storage and increased muscle glycogen (carbohydrates stored in the muscle). You will be eating more for so there will also be more food in the digestive system as well.

Fat Loss Tip #18: Fat Burning Supplements Don’t Work

If there was an actual fat burning supplement that worked believe me we would all know about it within hours, and there would be a lot more lean people in our society today.

In reality though most supplements don’t do much worth paying for, especially fat burning supplements.

Don’t believe the fat loss supplement hype. Your time and money will be better spent  making sure that you have your diet in check first and foremost.

Then look at your exercise and strength training program along with your sleep and stress management.

The one supplement that that does have some benefit for fat loss you’re likely getting enough of already…..which is caffeine.

It’s been shown to help with appetite suppression, gives a tiny boost in metabolism and also helps with energy in workouts.

However caffeine can be easily overdone and you’ll lose sensitivity to it if you abuse it too much.

Fat Loss Tip # 19: Do ONE Thing Better Starting Today!

Too often people have the notion that they need to be perfect with their diet, or do nothing at all.

This perfection mindset is why the diet and fat loss industry is worth BILLIONS of dollars yet there are so few success stories.

The imperfect diet or change you can follow consistently is ten times better than the perfect diet you can’t follow.

Any steps in the right direction are going to build momentum.

Maybe you’re eating fast food three times a day having a burger with large fries and a large soda.

Swap out the soda for  water for a few weeks, then get medium fries instead of a large.  Eventually get a salad at the same place instead of a burger and fries.

People let the idea of perfection hold them back from taking the first step, and as a result they never start.

Progress is better than perfection. Shift your focus to doing a little better each day consistently.

Eventually those small changes will add up and you’ll start seeing results, a mentor of mine Luka Hocevar regularly says “small hinges swing big doors” to explain that small changes add to bigger results when done consistently.

If you have a history of going all in with diets, and falling off the wagon a few weeks in switch your approach and make small consistent changes that you can stick with.

Going slower and consistently doing a little better each week is going to leave you with far better health and fat loss result than trying to be perfect for a month.

Fat Loss Tip # 20: Eat Higher Volume Foods

When you’re looking to lose body fat managing hunger and your appetite is going to be crucial, and your food choices can make or break your hunger and willpower.

Choose wisely!

While two foods can contain the exact same amount of calories and macronutrients, if one takes up a lot more room in your stomach leaves you feeling fuller for longer this is like your secret weapon.

A perfect example of this is comparing a protein bar to an egg scramble with some vegetables.

While these can have the exact same calories and macros, the egg scramble is going to leave you fuller for longer, and allow you to better manage your appetite as a result.

I did an instagram post comparing the egg scramble and protein bar during my crash diet experiment.

The egg scramble provided twice the actual food weight, and had more protein, and was 10 calories less than the protein bar!

Eating for maximum volume was really important during this diet as it allowed me to feel as full as possible while staying within the calorie limit.

Here are some great higher volume foods to use when you’re trying to manage hunger:

  • Vegetables: Any leafy green vegetables, brussel sprouts, zucchini, cauliflower, cucumber, celery, carrots, tomatoes, red cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, sugar snap peas, asparagus, salad mixes,

  • Fruit: apples, berries, melon.

  • Lean Protein sources

  • Legumes: garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans - these are great to toss into a salad

  • Cauliflower Rice

  • Zucchini Noodles

  • Soaked Oats with a few pinches of chia seeds

  • Zoats: Grated zucchini with oats, I know this sounds funny but you get a ton more food and can’t even taste the zucchini.

  • Egg white and veggie scrambles

  • BIG salads with lean protein: I had these daily when on my crash diet

Fat Loss Tip # 21: Have The Crucial Conversations

Wait, what are you talking about Alex ? Here let me explain real quick...

Time and time again I’ve had clients who let others in their life sabotage their success with their diet.

These people are usually well meaning, and they show their love and appreciation with hyperpalatable and calorie dense foods.

These are usually the kind of foods that would trip up my clients because they didn’t want to be rude and reject this person’s gesture of love and appreciation for them.

To remedy this the best thing to do is have the crucial, yet sometimes uncomfortable conversations.

This means speaking with those in your life about the changes you’re making, and asking them to support and hold you accountable.

It helps to explain your struggles with your weight, the pain and discomfort it’s caused you, and why you’re making a change.

Explain you’ll be eating differently and some of your habits socially might change, and you’d love if this person helped you and supported you along the way.

You let those people know that you value your relationship with them, and appreciate them too.

You’re going to ask them to show their love for you using something other than food though for the time being.

The main thing to keep in mind as you have these chats is to explain why you’re making this change and that you’d love the person to help keep you accountable and support you.

Even better encourage them to join you in making the change, and become and accountability buddy!

These are the 21 best proven tips that I’ve used myself and still use with my nutrition clients to help them achieve sustainable fat loss.

Use these tips like a road map and try to adopt a new tip every 2-3 weeks. If you’d like some help or guidance with your fat loss journey email me evolvent.pdx@gmail.com.