Brooke Kalanick, ND, is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City. She is coauthor of Ultimate You: A 4-Phase Total Body Makeover for Women Who Want Maximum Results. BetterByDrBrooke.com
Bottom Line/Health: All right, I have a question for you on behalf of all the overachievers out there who work, work, work, stress, stress, stress, eat, eat, eat. So how do you overcome stress overeating?
Dr. Brooke Kalanick, ND: There’re hormones going on here and there’re your habits of what you do when you’re under stress.
So first, understand your hormones. This is not your fault; you are not bad when you do this. It happens. You’re genetically wired to survive stress by needing a lot of energy. So as soon as your stress hormones rise, your body does not know the difference between sitting in your car running late, having a fight with your boyfriend or your spouse or your kids, or being chased like you’re going to get eaten by an animal. It really doesn’t know the difference.
So you’re having this experience of “get my blood sugar up.” I’m going to crave sugar, starch, fat; all those really high calorie foods that we turn to. Ice cream, cookies, chips, that’s what we want to eat when we’re stressed. You don’t stress out and think of having a salad. So that’s your hormones and your cortisol at work, creating those cravings. That’s going to happen.
Actually, the more under stress you are and more dysregulated your stress mechanism or your brain chemistry is – serotonin, dopamine – these things play a role along with your stress hormones. The more out of balance you already are, the harder time you’re going to have when you’re stressed out.
But then comes the habit. What do you do? We usually have our favorites; we go for a glass of wine, we go for an ice cream, and that becomes a habit. One of the things that I like to teach people to do is ways to tap into understanding what that habit is so you can have a hope of changing it and you don’t just mindlessly find yourself looking down at the empty pint of ice cream.
Bottom Line: That’s interesting, actually. We actually in some ways have chained it – it’s like Pavlov’s dogs, that they linked the bell to the guy coming in to feed them. So we’ve linked stress to ice cream, stress to whatever our food habit might be.
Dr. Kalanick: Right, so you’re fighting your chemistry already, and now you also have to fight your habit and the ingrained behavior. One thing to do, psychologists call this surfing the urge of the craving. Just give yourself a 30 second rule. Can you just sit with it, in the discomfort of it, for 30 seconds, and tell yourself you’ll do one other thing? Go for a quick walk, call a friend, look at Facebook – do something else just for 30 seconds. And if you can survive that, can you do 30 seconds more or maybe even 30 minutes? Your body and your brain really don’t know the difference. So that’s one technique.
Bottom Line: Does a craving only last 30 seconds?
Dr. Kalanick: A craving’s going to last as long as it lasts. It might be 30 seconds for some people. And sometimes people try to eat around it, like “I really want a chocolate bar,” so instead of having one bite of the chocolate bar, we try to concoct some chocolate-flavored thing. This is where that surfing the urge gives you some time to make a decision. “Could I just eat one square of chocolate? No, I definitely can’t.” Maybe give yourself another 30 seconds more.
Another technique is the acronym RAIN. The “R” is recognize – just acknowledge that you’re having a craving.
The “A” is for accept you are not the craving; you’re not this feeling. Just accept that it’s going on, and you don’t have to act on every single feeling or every single craving. This, again, buys you just a little bit of time.
And then the “I” in the word RAIN is for investigate. Is there something that always triggers this behavior for you? Is there anywhere in your body that you’re feeling it? Try to learn a little bit about it so that next time this comes up, you’re armed with more information.
And then the “N” is for nonattachment, meaning you’re not bad when you do this. You are not the craving. You are not this feeling. You are not weak, lacking willpower. This is what happens. It’s not really a failure. You’re able to, instead of stuff the feeling down – some people say “just go for a walk, just ignore it,” and that never works. It will always come back. You will have more stress, more opportunities for this to come in. This lets you be a little more powerful in the face of it rather than stuffing it down.
Bottom Line: Does it help also to come up with some alternate behavior or alternate snack or whatever? Like go for lentil soup instead?
Dr. Kalanick: Absolutely.
Bottom Line: Not that that’s so fun, but…
Dr. Kalanick: No, I call that “if-then” planning. If I’m having a craving, then I drink a big glass of water. And you can plug in anything that works for you, but that little “if-then” trick really works to support yourself so that when you’re in that situation, you’ve already thought through. And have at least two of those, because maybe you don’t have any water right then or maybe you can’t go for a walk or you can’t pick up your phone. Have at least two alternate ways of dealing with that situation, absolutely.
Bottom Line: All right. Thank you, Dr. Brooke Kalanick.