Stress, Sleep & Making Good Food Choices

sleepBy Marie Albiges

Freelance Writer

If you eat, or get those bad food cravings when you are stressed or bored, you’re not alone.

During Tidewater Physical Therapy’s third session in the annual Women’s Health and Fitness Series at the Tidewater Performance Center in Newport News, Performance Coach Tiffany Owen, CSCS, CPT helped show women how to see where their bad food cravings come from, how to stop them and also manage the stress and lack of sleep that could be a contributing factor.

“A craving is usually associated with some type of activity or some type of emotion,” said Owen. “The key is to evaluate how hungry you are and assess whether that hunger is emotional or physical.”

Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger

When you’re emotionally eating, you crave a specific food, and you crave it all of a sudden. Your stomach isn’t grumbling. It’s all in your mind, and whether you’re stressed, sad or bored, your mind is telling you to get something sweet or salty to make you feel better. If you feel guilty after you’ve eaten a certain food, you’re definitely eating emotionally, Owen said.

It takes our body 20 minutes for a body to realize that it’s full, Owen said, and when you’re physically hungry, your body and your mind realize that.

Water has a lot to do with it as well. Dehydration will trigger the hunger response, hoping you will feed your system something with water in it. Make sure to drink half of your weight in fluid ounces of water.

“Remember, if your urine is clear, then you are hydrated,” Owen said.

Dealing with Cravings

Cravings come at different times and for different reasons. It’s 2 p.m. and you’re bored at work, or it’s after dinner and you’re watching your favorite show. All of a sudden you MUST HAVE a bag of chips.

Luckily, there are tons of ways to distract yourself from that sodium filled, empty calorie bag of chips.

Brush your teeth. Walk your dog. Call a friend on the phone.

If you can distract yourself for three to 12 minutes, which is generally how long a craving lasts, you can often avoid caving in.

Getting Enough Sleep

“On average, people need 7.5 to nine hours of sleep,” said Owen. “It depends on who you are, it depends on your genetics, it depends on your age.”

Not getting enough sleep can lead to feelings of increased hunger and increased stress hormones. This can also affect your deep sleep rhythms, as can caffeine, alcohol and smoking too close to bedtime.

Alcohol especially can inhibit your sleep cycle, but it will also add to your calorie intake.

“Our body does not metabolize and store alcohol the same way,” said Owen. “It doesn’t turn into energy like the rest of our food does; whatever is unused goes to fat.”

If you don’t get those 7.5 to nine hours of sleep every night, it could lead to symptoms such as irritability, memory lapses, an impaired immune system, depression, migraines and more.

In order to avoid those, develop a good routine when you go to sleep.

Avoid staring at the television screen or your cell phone right before bed.

Black out noises and light, and make sure the room is at the temperature you like.

Don’t work out right before bedtime, and go to bed around the same time every night.

If you’re lying in bed unable to fall asleep, get out a book or walk around until you are tired.

Throughout our lives, we miss out on sleep. And we have to make it up. If you need eight hours of sleep and you only get six that night, then you have two hours of sleep debt.

“Throughout your lifetime, you keep racking up that debt,” said Owen. “That’s why getting a good amount of sleep is so important.

Managing Stress

“Everybody has it,” said Owen. “It’s how you deal with the stress that matters. Often, being stressed leads to overeating or not eating at all.”

At the beginning of the day, most people, who had a good night sleep, wake up with a lot of energy.

Throughout the day, that energy gets dispersed to different stressful situations such as an angry coworker or a car full of screaming kids. By the end of the day, bodies are drained of energy.

So how do you fill your energy back up?

Set some time alone for yourself. Take a hot bath. Plan your day and prioritize. Get up and move for five minutes every hour. Talk to a friend.

“Do not let the stresses overtake you,” said Owen.

Different Types of Fitness

Best way to rid yourself of stress? Get your blood pumping, Owen said.

When working out, always remember FITT: Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. This can be applied to cardiovascular or aerobic fitness as well as strength training fitness.

For aerobic fitness, it’s a good idea to work out three to five days a week for 30 to 50 minutes. Your max heart rate should be at 65 to 85 percent, and you need to make sure you’re doing a physical activity that you enjoy, whether that’s kayaking, running, cycling, swimming or walking.

Owen stressed doing something you enjoy because, she said, you tend to keep doing the things you like. Making exercise fun will keep you at it.

Marie Albiges is a freelance writer based out of Newport News, Va. Second only to writing, her passion is running.