Are your stress-relievers adding to your stress?

Raise your hand if you eat chocolate when you are stressed.

Raise your hand if you ever have days in which you just have to have a glass of wine, because hell, for the day you just got through, you deserve it!

Okay, now raise your hand if thoughts of tackling a huge upcoming project at work send your heart rate up and your hands to your cupboards, mindlessly rifling through for snacks? Or if fighting with your parents leaves you so aggravated that you scrounge up those chips that you SWORE you were going to throw away, but just couldn’t bring yourself to do it (because it’s not a big deal, you don’t even really like chips anyway….and yet here you are, eating them by the handful, straight out of the bag).

You are not alone!

You are not alone!

photo credit: <a href=””>Locator</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

If you were able to look around a little bit, you’d know that you are NOT alone. According to the APA (as cited in The Willpower Instinct), most people report “eating” as a way to relieve stress (along with using Facebook, drinking, and shopping). Yet most people also note that their chosen stress reliever is generally NOT EFFECTIVE. While we may rationalize in the moment that a little food helps us get through our toughest times, I’d argue that for many of us, we are just setting ourselves up for additional stress, future cravings, or possible addiction.

Adding Guilt to your Stress

Especially if fat loss or weight loss is the goal, choosing food as our means for decompressing often leads to the experience of MORE stress than before. If you’ve learned to rely on the comforting effect of food (which is a very powerful and real thing!), you know that it can often be a major reason that contributes to weight gain in the first place. For example, when I was wronged by a guy in college, my best friend immediately put me in her car and drove me to the nearest gelato shop with lightning speed so that I could vent and be consoled by the cold, creamy, dessert. (And I’m not going to lie either:  I felt better!)

We remember that food has been a reliable mood booster before, so we tend to fall back on it in times of emotional vulnerability. go to my blog However, if we continually attempt to relieve our stress using the very thing we aim to avoid or reduce, we feel only a momentary reprieve from stress that soon returns in full and then some. The real problem, our anxiety or feelings about a difficult situation, has not been resolved.  PLUS, we now experience feelings of guilt from our indulgences and a decrease in self esteem from not sticking to our health goals. Ouch!

Fueling Future Cravings

I know, kid. Life is tough.

I know, kid. Life is tough.

photo credit: <a href=””>Fiery-Phoenix</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

Just like a two year old throwing a tantrum, cravings are annoying, persistent, and inevitable. Our response to them, however, is what dictates their intensity and frequency in the future. If we give in and reward our two year old nightmare with the candy she demands, she will learn that throwing a fit leads to candy. In the same way, by stuffing our faces with chocolate and ice cream when we crave them, we learn that we only feel good when we give in to our desires. Over time, this pattern only gets stronger and we soon expect that our cravings will automatically lead us to eat. When we add in the negative emotions of feeling overwhelmed or anxious, we immediately know how to make those feelings go away. Additionally, we are in a weakened position to try to fight these cravings when we are overcome by our emotions in times of stress.


Somehow Ben and Jerry's has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Somehow Ben and Jerry’s has manage to create a product possibly even MORE addictive than regular ice cream.

Certain foods (especially those in high in salt, fat, and sugar, like salted caramel gelato…mmm) can affect the same neurological pathways of addiction that drugs do. Turning to food in times of stress quickly establishes routines and habits, innocently enough at first, but we often don’t realize the strength of these habits until we try to change them.

For example, as much as I warn my clients against it now, I have always found it really “relaxing” to plop down on the couch after dinner, watch some TV, and have dessert (I grew up in a household where ice cream was as much of a grocery staple as eggs or milk). Having dessert makes watching TV more enjoyable and fun. This routine started out harmlessly, but grew into something more destructive: as I developed more stress as an adult and experienced more relaxation from the ritual, I started to experience the urge for sweets every time I watched TV on the couch at night.

And guess what? Even when I do indulge in my craving and I finish eating my berries or a couple of squares of dark chocolate (my more current usual suspects for dessert), I immediately want more berries or chocolate.   dating sites for farmers in the usa and canada In the same way drug addicts develop higher tolerance for their drugs, the urge for eating out of mindless relaxation is not satisfied by just a little bit of eating. And sometimes this means grabbing a second or third bowl of berries. Fine…it’s better than ice cream, right? But this exact same process occurs whether its berries or ice cream or nuts or popcorn. I eat some, but the urge to eat is not satisfied.

And this is when a well-intentioned snack or dessert after dinner can turn into one what the smart folks over at Metabolic Effect refer to as a “continuous meal” (nonstop eating from dinner until bedtime), and this becomes our new compulsive habit that we turn to in order to relieve our stress.

Do you see how this might lead to weight gain?


So now that we know what won’t work, what can we do to reduce our levels of stress? The following activities tend to actually be effective in reducing stress by promoting our parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) system:

  • Yoga– go to and sign up for tons of yoga classes on your computer!
  • Foam rolling/stretching – good recovery for your mind AND your body
  • Meditations/Deep belly breaths – I have many of my clients practice these daily, for relaxation and proper bracing techniques while strength training
  • Warm bath or shower – I like to add in a few drops of lavender essential oil, or bathe in Epsom salts, for added relaxation
  • Drink tea—Harney’s Cinnamon Spice Tea = life-changing
  • Read a book for pleasure – sometimes a girl needs a good distraction; if you are looking for some good page turners I love Gillian Flynn’s books
  • Listen to music
  • Walk/ Light exercise—often overlooked, but if you can get your body moving and your heart pumping just a bit, you will feel reenergized and refreshed afterwards
  • Nap/Sleep—I am a strong believer in taking midafternoon naps when I can; try to keep your nap under 30 minutes though to prevent waking up groggy or accidentally sleeping for 3 hours (not that I know anything about that…)


The next time you feel that wave of stress and anxiety start to wash over your entire being, start with 3 deep breaths and then think:

What action can I take right now that will actually help me feel better?


Always here to help,


PS – I’d love to know: Do you struggle with this? Do you find that your chosen mode of stress relief can leave you feeling more wound up? Let me know in the comments below!

PPS – I really hope that you find some of these insights and suggestions useful! If you know somebody who may struggle with these challenges or benefit from reading, please share this post with them!

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  1. Leah says

    Huge fan of chocolate, whisky, brownies, chocolate chip cookies, corn chips, Kettle Chips with Sea Salt… the list goes on. I fight my demons the most between 3:00 and 6:00 –that awful 3 hour chunk of time when work is kinda done, there is not enough to start a new project; it is too early to have dinner, but to late to have another lunch, the animals are all demanding food and attention, the phone doesn’t stop ringing…. yada yada yada… It is worse in the winter with it being dark outside so the motivation to go for a walk is lacking. Yoga seems to mean “Awesome!! big pig pile on the floor!!” to the dogs. A nap means “Awesome!! big pig pile on the bed!!”. (yes…. I have ill-behaved dogs, ok? slap me!!). Anyway…. not sure where I am going with this but yes I do relate to your blog!!!!!

    • jlchenelle says

      Interesting that your “demons” come out mid afternoon! After dinner seems to be a common one, but we all have different struggles!

      I know what you mean about darkness making it hard….walking is such a great way to fight against cravings! I can’t wait til its light in the evening! Only a few more weeks!

      Keep reading, Leah! I hope you find some tips and ideas in here that help you get through that chunk of the day!!

  2. LBC says

    I am a huge fan of yogaglo!!! And cinnamon tea. I know this sounds very “English teachery” but I have found that writing about what is stressing me out can really help. Just pouring all my emotions onto paper feels a little like an emotional purge. After I have gotten all the stress onto paper- I destroy the paper!!

    • jlchenelle says

      After I write out of my emotional purge, I add a useful tip or two at the end and then hit “publish” onto this site!! 🙂

  3. Alia says

    I enjoy most of your suggestions above…. plus laugh with my trainer…. and attend my local gym – Anytime Fitness 🙂 Heck, when ISN’T it a good time to foam roll? Might I also recommend hopping on a cruise ship?! 🙂 Works wonders! Love your blog, Jamie! xo

    • jlchenelle says

      Haha! Foam roll EVERY DAY, for sure! I wish I could hop on on of your many cruise ships with you, lady!!!!

      Thanks for checking out my site and chiming in, Alia!! 🙂

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