Stress eating and your fertility

November 21 2020

Stress eating and your fertility

Stress eating and your fertility

We know that chronic prolonged stress can lead to a host of fertility and pregnancy complications such as, but not limited to:

increased risk of miscarriage
difficulties conceiving
difficult pregnancy (placenta problems largely due to decreased blood flow to pelvic organs, preeclampsia, hypertension).

Thus stress management is essential to having a healthy pregnancy.
Also essential to a healthy pregnancy is proper diet and nutrition (read more about this in our previous post "Everything you need to know about the Cultivate Fertility Diet") and one major component, especially important now with the holidays approaching, is acknowledging eating habits in the face of stress.

Do you reach for food when you feel stress?

Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations.  It is natural that we reach for food in times of stress. Cortisol is released after prolonged stress and can contribute to making poor food choices such as: overeating - cortisol increases appetite, increased sugar cravings - high cortisol can increase cravings for sugary and fatty foods, associated with increased hunger hormones it can contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
There are other emotional triggers that can spur emotional eating besides stress - things like:

 - Boredom
 - Habits - often from the past. For some people, emotional eating is a learned behavior. During childhood, their parents give them treats to help them deal with a tough day or situation, or as a reward for something good.
 - Fatigue - food can seem like the answer to not wanting to do a particular activity anymore
 - Social influences - eating when others eat even though you aren't hungry

Becoming aware of your eating habits in relation to the level of stress you are experiencing can help identify behavior that is unhealthy that may be contributing to the challenges of your fertility journey.  Knowing the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger can help mitigate some of these triggers in an effort to reprogram some of the conditioning that has become an ingrained response to stress.

Physical vs. Emotional Hunger

Physical hunger is true hunger - when blood sugar is low and your body and brain are in need.  It is often associated with the feeling like you could eat anything.  Satisfying physical hunger leads to positive feelings as it provides the body with calories and nutrients it needs.  It involves consciousness and mindfulness leading to making healthier choices and can contribute to healthier digestion.
Emotional hunger is typically associated with cravings for specific foods - usually junk food.  Often it is associated with mindless eating (downing a whole pint of ice cream in front of the TV).  Emotional eating can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt.
Truth of the matter is that you should feel good and positive when you eat. Negative feelings, shame or guilt are counterproductive to your digestion as well as your fertility.

It's not easy to change these habits and the last thing you want to feel is more guilt for not succeeding. Begin by acknowledging and analyzing your own eating habits, it takes time. Stress is a part of life and we are all a work in progress. For now, consider these strategies to mitigate emotional eating - food for thought (but a little action is good too:)

Decrease sugar cravings: 

1) Eat more salt and quality fats (avocado, olives, salty nuts)

2) Eat something crunchy - the crunch is satiating.  Try celery w/ avocado (healthy fat) & hemp seeds (protein and healthy fats) or apple slices w/ nut butter (healthy fat) & cacao nibs (crunch, potent antioxidants, and ...... chocolate!!!)

3) Don't wait until you are hungry to eat.  Be prepared - always keep fresh cut veggies on hand and available and eat them regularly.  If you are busy, juggling life and running around all day, you should be eating every 2-3 hrs.  Eating at regular intervals can decrease cravings in general.

Establish a ritual - Light a candle - say a blessing -  A ritual or process can help you slow down and remind your body that you are about to eat to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system for optimal digestion.  End your meal with a ritual to signal to your brain that you are done eating.  After dinner try having some mint tea, brush your teeth, or have some pickled ginger (that touch of sweetness can be a signal that the meal is over)...

Slow down - It takes 20 min for your brain to get the message that you are eating.  Wait 20 minutes before you go for that second helping - you may not actually be hungry any more.

Keep a food diary or journal - This can help to identify patterns, situations, and behavior of emotional hunger instead of physical hunger. It can help provide insight into eating habits - rate your level of hunger on a scale of 1-10 noting your mood and feelings at the time.