In developed countries it is very common to suffer from the much feared anxiety ; however, everyone faces this psychological problem differently.

There are those who take the wise step of seeking professional help and seeing what is behind their anxious symptomatology. Others, on the other hand, opt for less suitable strategies to cope with it. Among the most common measures is over-ingestion, that is, binge eating or unhealthy behaviors with food.

This type of behavior, although common in the population, can also be a sign of a much larger problem, as are eating disorders.

Provided that snacking between meals and excessive food consumption does not represent a psychological disorder, which requires the urgent intervention of a psychotherapist, it is possible to follow a series of tips to reduce this type of anxious behaviour.

Let’s look at some tips for coping with eating anxiety , as well as seeing foods that contribute to satiety and calmness.

Combating Eating Anxiety

These are some of the anti-stress habits that have to do with eating habits.

Habits to introduce

There are a number of actions that can be tried on a day-to-day basis that will help control eating anxiety. In addition, if you suffer from overweight or obesity, the habits described below can contribute to weight loss, as well as reduce the percentage of body fat and run a lower risk of diseases such as diabetes or heart problems.

1. Drink more water

Thirst is often confused with hunger. After all , there is a feeling that the stomach is empty and needs to be filled .

A very useful tip is that, if the urge to eat after hours appears, to identify whether or not you are really hungry you should drink one or two large glasses of water. In case the hunger persists, it is possible to follow the following advice.

2. Eating healthy snacks

If after drinking water you don’t feel like eating, you can try to fight the hunger by taking healthy snacks.

A piece of fruit, pickled vegetables, raw carrots and other vegetables are an excellent choice to satisfy your appetite after hours.

These foods are usually high in fibre and low in calories , which makes you feel full in your stomach relatively quickly and, if you have not yet had enough, you can eat a little more without the risk of getting fat or feeling guilty about it.

3. Infusions

Another very suitable option is to take infusions. There are all kinds and flavors on the market, which can be a good way to trick the brain into thinking it’s eating.

Especially recommended are those that have aromas like mint, due, above all, to its sweet smell.

Herbal remedies such as valerian, passionflower, orange blossom and lemon balm are ideal for, first, filling the stomach and killing the appetite and, second, for calming anxiety.

4. No stimulant drinks

Not all infusions are valid. Exciting drinks such as tea or coffee, even if no sugar is added, are not suitable options .

The reason for this is that they stimulate, making you even more nervous later on, which can make the desire to eat even more powerful.

5. Chewing gum

According to a study by the Wrigley Science Institute, daily gum chewing can help reduce nearly 1,000 calories per month. Among the factors that have been hypothesized to contribute to this is that gum is usually sweetened, so that its sweet taste contributes to satiating the desire to eat something sugary .

In addition, chewing produces a relaxing effect, increasing blood flow to the brain.

However, this apparently harmless sweet should not be abused, since its overconsumption can produce laxative effects that can degenerate into chronic diarrhoea.

6. Eat frequently throughout the day

One of the myths about losing weight and controlling food anxiety is that dieting is a good way to do it. This belief is completely wrong, and it is just the way it contributes to the feeling of overeating.

Eating often, especially five times a day, with well-defined schedules and no more than three hours between meals helps to avoid binge eating .

Eating several times a day makes it difficult to feel hungry between meals, and the thought that it is not worth eating when there is so little left for the next meal helps to avoid this pecking.

On the other hand, the longer you go without food, the more likely you are to lose control and binge.

7. Sleep well

Sleeping less than the recommended 7 hours may cause increased production of appetite-stimulating hormones .

Also, when you feel tired, you may go to the refrigerator more often to see if you can get your energy back by taking a snack.

8. Exercise

Exercise reduces the appetite, as well as helping to calm anxiety thanks to the release of endorphins.

No need to do strength training or run a marathon. You just need to take a half-hour walk around the neighbourhood, at a gentle pace and looking at the street furniture. It will help you calm down and disconnect from all the anxiety you are experiencing.

However, if you opt for more physically and mentally demanding exercises, such as going to the gym or taking up dance, aerobics, swimming or any other kind of directed activity are very good options to kill hunger, in addition to contributing to being in good shape.

People who follow healthy habits in their life are less likely to follow unhealthy habits in other respects . Thus, exercise can indirectly contribute to good eating habits.

9. Eating more slowly

With the pace of life in industrialized societies, it is normal to spend only about ten minutes on food. They are eaten in a hurry, without tasting the food or chewing it properly.

The ideal is to try to make the meal a moment of peace and calm , and to do it as if it were a ritual. Spend a minimum of 20-25 minutes on it, as the feeling of satiety starts to emerge when you take that time to eat.

It is also appropriate that once you have finished eating, get up from the table to avoid repeating the meal or making the combo coffee and then come back for another dessert.

Furthermore, by doing so, a bad digestion with its corresponding problems in the bathroom is avoided .

10. Making the shopping list

It is very important to be clear about what you are going to buy when you go to the supermarket . On many occasions, especially when you don’t have your shopping list ready at all, the constant bombardment of promotions, offers and brightly colored advertisements exert their main psychological effect: that of buying things that you don’t need.

So, without the prepared list it is more likely to buy that two-for-one offer of chocolate filled buns or chips that are 20% off.

Making the list is not a foolproof method, but it will help you be more focused on what you need to buy and what you really need to buy.

Making the mental effort to buy only what is written on the list is very important and, if possible, it is preferable to do the shopping after eating, since you will have a full stomach and will not fall into temptations whose fault is hunger.

Satiating and soothing nutrients

In addition to healthy habits that allow better control over the desire to eat, there are several foods that, due to their nutritional composition, contribute to greater satiety and also a greater sense of well-being. Below are the nutrients involved in reducing anxiety and the foods in which they are found.

1. Tryptophan and serotonin

Animal proteins, present in fish, meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as vegetables such as bananas, pineapples and nuts, are a good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that has a calming effect on the body.

This substance, after undergoing several metabolic cycles, is transformed into serotonin , a neurotransmitter that is related to appetite and mood control

2. Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, found in bread, rice, cereals, lentils and many more, are associated with increased serotonin, as is tryptophan. It is recommended that they have a high percentage of fiber and have a lower glycemic index . This means that blood glucose levels do not increase as rapidly.

This has the effect of a longer time in which you are satiated, plus there is no drastic increase in glucose levels.

3. Omega 3

This fatty acid is found in blue fish and nuts. This substance has been linked to a reduction in anxiety levels.

4. Magnesium

Nuts are a very good source of magnesium , which helps to calm nervousness. It is enough to take 3 to 4 nuts a day.

5. Isoflavones

Soy contains isoflavones, the consumption of which has been linked to an increased amount of leptin in the body, known to be the hormone that takes away the appetite.

6. Fiber

All foods with a high content of fiber satiate , especially those containing soluble fiber, since they absorb more water.

These foods include leeks, legumes, nuts, brewer’s yeast, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, thistle, onions, artichokes, garlic and chicory.

7. Vitamin B3

Raw peanuts and walnuts are a great source of vitamin B3 , especially niacin. This substance has been linked to the reduction of insomnia.

In order to obtain this nutrient it is very important to consume the unroasted nuts.

8. Licorice

It has been shown that the consumption of about 3.5 grams of liquorice (the root, not the candy!) helps to reduce anxiety about eating, as well as reducing hunger and being associated with a lower percentage of body fat.

It is important not to abuse , as it can cause arrhythmia and hypertension.

9. Capsaicin

What makes chili peppers hot is capsaicin, a substance that reduces the feeling of hunger and contributes to a higher caloric expenditure.

The reason why spicy food causes more energy to be spent has to do with thermogenesis: spicy food releases more heat, causing more energy to be spent. Coincidentally this also contributes to a higher degree of satiety .

However, it is very important not to abuse the spice or take it every day, since if it is introduced as a common ingredient in the diet the body can get used to it and stop doing the above-mentioned effect.

Also, the spicy stuff can damage the stomach.

10. Oleic acid

Oleic acid, present in oil, is a fat and, in addition, the food that contains it is hypercaloric . But this does not mean that it does not contribute to satisfying hunger, on the contrary. This compound, on reaching the intestine, is transformed into oleoiletanoamide, which curbs hunger.

That is why extra virgin olive oil is a food that should not be lacking in every kitchen and be included in the extent to which it is. A good breakfast based on a slice of wholemeal bread with oil is a good way to start the day.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bulik, C. M., Sullivan, P. F., Fear, Joyce, P. R. (2007) Eating disorders and antecedent anxiety disorders: a controlled study. Scandinavian Psychiatric Act. 96(2), 101-107.
  • Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (1975). Anxiety, restraint, and eating behavior. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 84(6), 666-672.