This is a pretty normal phenomenon in times of stress - when you're stressed you produce more of the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels spike your blood sugar levels rise through releasing glycogen from the muscles and breaking down fat cells. However these spikes are followed by blood sugar lows when your body tries to reduce the blood sugar high by producing insulin. This sugar low is what causes you to crave carbs to get blood sugar levels up again. Eating a large serving of carbs also causes serotonin production making you feel better.
Unfortunately this means people tend to eat sugary and more refined foods when they are stressed when they need more nutritious foods such as veggies + wholegrains. Combined with the increased insulin production this generally leads to weight gain.
When I find myself falling into this trap I enforce these dinner rules to limit the damage and keep my diet balanced.
- firstly I always eat my veggies first either as a salad, soup or a veg juice before my main meal. If you've got a juicer you can easily get your five a day into a glass of juice in 2 minutes and drink it whilst you cook the rest of your dinner. Or instead of a juice have a fruit smoothie but blend in a handful of spinach leaves to increase your greens.
- secondly I make sure my meal includes a portion of protein the size of the palm of my hand. This is really important to regulate blood sugar levels and also to support your thyroid which can become suppressed in times of stress. I then alternate forkfulls of carbs for forkfulls of protein until all the protein is gone. If I really crave pure carbs then I have a protein shake first to tick this off the list.
- only once I've finished my protein can I then eat the rest of my pasta, by which time my appetite has usually regulated.
It takes some discipline not to just go straight to the carbs but this strategy really works making me feel more balanced and alert than when I just go full on carb monster, so it's worth the effort.