If you feel like you’ve practically memorized all the drive-thru menu displays within driving distance to your home, a new study suggests there’s a way to break the habit—you know, without resorting to hiding your car keys?
Researchers from The Ohio State University recruited 212 women between the ages of 18 and 39 who were either overweight or had obesity. All were low-income moms who reported facing numerous challenges like financial difficulties, unstable romantic relationships, and unsafe neighborhoods. (Related: The Saddest Restaurant Closures In Your State).
Publishing their results in the journal Nutrients, the researchers found that addressing stress levels through support groups and educational materials made a significant difference in the consumption of high-fat foods, including fast food. Tactics that proved especially helpful were advising the women not to blame themselves during stressful situations and raising awareness about the stressors in their lives.
“It’s not that these women didn’t want to eat healthier,” said the study’s lead author Mei-Wei Chang, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at the university, in a news release. “If you don’t know how to manage stress, then when you are so stressed out, why would you care about what you eat?”
Women in the study who lowered stress also became more physically active and encouraged their children to participate in preparing healthier foods.
In addition to helping you avoid the drive-thru, stress reduction comes with a huge breadth of other benefits, according to dietitian Michelle Routhenstein, RD. That includes a lower risk of cardiovascular events including heart attack and stroke, as well as better sleep, stronger immune system response, and better resilience.
“The ripple effect we see with stress management is really notable,” she says. “All of these aspects of your health are connected, too, so improvements in one area will affect the others.”
For example, getting quality sleep has been associated with more effective weight loss, which in turn has been shown to improve immunity. In other words, avoiding fast food is just one of many advantages when it comes to stress reduction.
“The best strategies are those that are long-term, sustainable, and leave you feeling healthy and energetic,” says Routhenstein. Putting more stress-busting tactics in place can qualify, she adds, especially as you begin seeing the benefits stacking up.
For more, be sure to check out The 9 Worst Foods to Eat When You’re Stressed, According to Experts.
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