Want to know how to stop stress eating? With all of the stress eating that so many of us are succumbing to these days, the last thing we want to do is make dietary choices that actually increase our stress levels. We all know that fresh fruits and vegetables are crucial for both mind and body—and you can find plenty of local sources for them in our Spring Farm Guide—but we were curious as to whether when we eat is as impactful as what we eat. We reached out to Lauren Popeck, RD, registered dietician at Orlando Health, for some professional insight on how to stop stress eating.
What to Eat
Fats are a key component of helping us feel satiated, but the wrong ones can make us feel sluggish—hardly a desired outcome when social distancing is already limiting many exercise options. “Healthy fats are unsaturated, contain a lot of antioxidants, are good for your heart and help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure,” says Popeck.
Popeck prefers olive oil, and also likes fatty fish like salmon and sardines for their Omega-3s, which lower inflam-mation. For the sardine-shy, Popeck suggests preparing a can of sardines the way you might fix a can of tuna. “I eat them and my kids eat them. I drain and mix with Greek yogurt and spices like garlic powder, black pepper, chopped fresh onion and fresh lemon,” she says. Vegetarian sources of Omega-3s include chia seeds, flax seeds and walnuts. Be sure to store these in the fridge so that their oils don’t become rancid.
What to Avoid
It’s so tempting to look to sugar as a mood booster. It’s easier still to look to “natural” sweeteners like agave, honey or coconut sugar as a way to make a sweet treat seem more healthful. Popeck warns against falling into this trap. “There’s really no difference—all sugars are carbs and our body breaks them down and digests them in similar ways,” she explains. “Sugars are made up of different types of building blocks but at the end of the day they are all similar.”
Of course it’s best to avoid added sweeteners altogether, but if you prefer the taste of an alternative to plain old sugar, then Popeck says “go for it—it’s all about the amount rather than the type.” The stronger flavor of molasses or maple syrup may mean that you use a lower volume to satisfy your sweet tooth.
When to Eat
With more of us staying at home all day, a pattern of grazing can quickly become the norm. We may feel as if that all-day string of little meals equals lower calorie intake, but it could have negative effects on our appetite and metabolism.
“I recommend starting the day off with a good breakfast including 20 to 30 grams of protein,” says Popeck. “That can start your metabolism—if you’re not eating all day you might not feel hunger . . . breakfast perks up the appetite and gets you on to a regular pattern,” she explains. “Eating three meals a day curbs snacking.”
If you require a daily hit of caffeine, morning is the time for that, too. According to Popeck, caffeine’s effects can last up to 12 hours in some people and can prevent relaxation. “Enjoy one cup of coffee in the morning or switch to tea,” she says. “From 300 up to 600 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe.”
What to Cook
An ounce of meat, poultry or fish contains seven grams of protein, almost half of the minimum of 20 grams that Popeck recommends at breakfast. A single egg contains six grams, and a five-ounce serving of Greek yogurt can contain up to 18 grams. A simple strata with greens and Gruyére can be made in advance, and leftovers keep well in the fridge. Use whatever cheese you have on hand (or skip it altogether), but don’t skimp on the greens.
Feta has a strong flavor, so you don’t need much of it to enliven a zucchini salad with feta and olives. Peeled, seeded cucumbers cut into strips would make a good substitute for the zucchini; try either version topped with sardines, grilled salmon or leftover cooked chicken.
Subbing cauliflower for potatoes is an easy way to add healthier veggies to your diet, but a buttery mash might well defeat the purpose. Crisp oven-roasted cauliflower with gremolata bread-crumbs gets a flavor boost from olive oil, garlic and lemon.
Forget the TikTok coffee and other sugary concoctions. Coffee beans from Orlando’s local roasters are so good you won’t need anything but hot water to make your morning cup a thing to savor.