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Tips to keep your stress levels in check (and not worry about your weight).

Between quarantine baking and changes in the way we grocery shop, you may have heard jokes about gaining the “quarantine 15.” Jokes aside, this may be causing stress that isn’t beneficial to your overall health and well-being.

Over time, excess stress can lead to more serious health problems aside from gaining a few pounds, including high blood pressure, heart disease and depression. While worrying about gaining weight is normal, here are some tips to keep yourself in check (while also giving yourself a little wiggle room).

Don’t worry about dieting

Any restrictive diet, such as cutting carbs or fad dieting, will physically cause stress to your body. “In fact, fad diets are never a good idea unless you’re prescribed to eat a certain way by your doctor,” says Ashley Hashuga, CRNP in GI nutrition at Geisinger. Fad diets are often a quick fix and can lead to weight gain once you stop following them.

Plus, our pandemic-inspired shopping habits may not necessarily support a strict diet. “Now, we’re shopping every two or three weeks – less than we’re used to – and we’re often buying what’s in the store that day. That won’t always line up with a perfectly healthy diet, and that’s ok,” says Ms. Hashuga.

Allow yourself to eat whatever is on-hand, focusing on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds as much as possible. It’s all about balance, and that balance looks different to everyone.

Here are some tips for healthy eating without dieting:

  • Plan to eat regular meals throughout the day.
  • Eat more slowly, savor every bite and recognize when you’re full.
  • Plan and prep your meals for the week as much as possible.
  • Drink plenty of water – 64 to 70 ounces of water every day.

Remember not to compare yourself and what you’re eating to what you see on TV, social media or in the media. Those images are often unrealistic and professionally edited. Gaining weight or having a body that doesn’t match what you see on TV isn’t unhealthy, because your weight isn’t the only indicator of your overall health. It’s more important to manage your stress levels right now.

Manage stress to prevent health problems

When we’re stressed, our bodies produce excess levels of cortisol. “Cortisol is a stress hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels and regulate your metabolism,” says Ms. Hashuga. “If your cortisol levels are continually elevated, it can lead to weight gain, among other health concerns.” These can include anxiety, depression, digestion issues, trouble sleeping and heart disease.

If you can work to keep your stress levels down, it will help to improve your overall health. Everyone has a different way to reduce stress. From taking baths to walking or baking, find what works best for you.

“Remember that whatever is causing your stress will eventually end and things will get back to normal,” says Ms. Hashuga. Refocus your energy on something else to keep your mind as mentally sound as possible right now.

Ways to help manage stress include:

  • Getting enough sleep each night.
  • Practicing self-care, which can include any activity that brings you joy.
  • Moving regularly, which can include yard work or walking.
  • Practicing mindful exercises, such as deep breathing or meditation.

Practice mindful eating

While stressing about gaining weight doesn’t need to be a concern right now, consider eating mindfully be as it comes with many benefits.

“Mindful eating might mean something different to each of us,” says Ms. Hashuga, “whether that’s eating in-season foods, savoring each bite or simply eating until we’re full. It’s about enjoying every minute of what you’re eating – no matter what it is.”

If you’re staying at home and only eating what you were able to buy the last time you went to the store, don’t worry. We can’t eat perfectly all the time. But you can pay attention to eating queues, like stopping when you’re full, to help make the best out of what you have on hand.

“If you’re going through a time of stress, you may find that you’re eating a little more or just differently,” says Ms. Hashuga. “This is completely normal because we tend to see food as comforting or something that gives us pleasure.”

If you feel like eating and food are the only things getting you through your time of stress, consider talking to your support system to help you work through it. Whether that’s through regular video calls with family or friends, or seeking help from a professional through a medical or telemedicine appointment.

Next steps:

Make an appointment with Ashley Hashuga, CRNP
Try these healthy recipes
Looking for weight-loss support? Learn about telemedicine appointments

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