Many of you are drinking and eating your feelings through this nail-biting election week.
And it’s not just munching at home. Fast food chains have been opportunistic about election-related stress eating, offering free comfort food to help you cope.
But wait a minute. While it’s true that consuming indulgence-worthy calories can help to soothe or even numb your anxiety, excess amounts of cookies, ice cream or the best tasting wine will not make you feel better in the long run. That’s true no matter who you are rooting for.
“There is a lot of collective anxiety at this time, which can lend itself to more emotional eating, which makes perfect sense,” said Signe Darpinian, a certified eating disorders specialist and the coauthor of “No Weigh! A Teen’s Guide to Positive Body Image, Food, and Emotional Wisdom.”
“But feeding a body that’s not asking to be fed on a regular basis can lead to preoccupation and more emotional headspace than what is ideal,” Darpinian previously told CNN.
Consuming excess calories in one sitting can also lead to low energy, bloating, stomach discomfort and weight gain over time. The same can be said for drinking.
Including small amounts of alcohol may be healthful, but even at low levels, alcohol may interfere with sleep, cloud judgment, contribute to weight gain and negatively interact with some medications.
Remember, there is no need to feel badly about turning to your favorite foods or drinks when they provide you some comfort. That’s not what this is about. We are human after all, and this is a perfectly acceptable way to cope.
The key is finding strategies to help you eat what you enjoy and feel better, too – even after the final vote is decided. Whoever you voted for, here are six ways to cope with election-related stress eating.
1. First, don’t overdo it
Yes, you can enjoy your glass of pinot grigio, a baked chocolate chip cookie or two out of the oven, a scoop of Häagen Dazs mint chip ice cream or a handful of salty cashews. But aim to give yourself a limit.
You can even say to yourself, “Yes, I am aware I am making the decision to indulge. But I’m not going to stuff myself until I feel sick.” Being aware of your decision to eat or drink makes your indulgence even more enjoyable, because you are being mindful about it, which helps you savor it.
2. Pre-portion your snacks
If you are having trouble with portion control, you can try putting small portions of chips, pretzels and cookies into zip-top bags, which can help you naturally avoid eating out of supersize bags or containers, explained registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix in a previous CNN interview. Taub-Dix is creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of “Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.”
To make it easier to control alcohol consumption, put the wine bottle (or extra cans of beer) out of sight after you pour.
3. Pick plant-based comfort foods
A diet filled with plant-based dishes like my DIY grain burger and my maple-roasted Brussels sprouts with mushroom “bacon” are not only delicious; they will also improve your health.
“Research consistently shows that plant-based diets are linked with a lower risk of obesity, hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer,” said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and author of “Plant-Powered for Life,” in a previous interview.
Try “plantifying” your favorite comfort-food dishes, by swapping broccoli, peppers and cashew cheese for meat and cheese in a lasagna recipe; using beans, tofu or mushrooms in place of meat for tacos; or making a vegan Bolognese instead of a traditional Bolognese.
4. Give your indulgences a nutritional upgrade
Even if you don’t regularly cook, you can still give your meals and snacks a nutritional boost. If you can’t part with pasta (and really, who can?), go for lentil or chickpea pastas instead of regular pasta, which have a hearty bite and will boost fiber and protein. You can also try making cauliflower tots instead of tater tots.
When it comes to sweets, if you enjoy ice cream, add fiber and antioxidant-rich berries or diced mango on top. And if you love chocolate, pair it with some fruit, by dipping berries, kiwi or apple slices in melted chocolate; then refrigerate.
5. Nibble on ‘busy snacks’
Foods that keeps your hands busy can be helpful during stressful times, Taub-Dix explained. She recommends snacking on healthy, low-calorie “busy snacks” like air-popped popcorn; dipping apple slices into yogurt; or adding your favorite seasonings and spices to Greek yogurt to use as a veggie dip.
6. Take some time for tea
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Sipping tea can help a stress-induced craving pass. Green tea in particular has less caffeine than coffee, is a rich source of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, and also contains the amino acid theanine, which may help reduce stress and promote calm feelings.
Now that’s something we can all use, even after the ballot-counting is over.
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.