How Does Stress Affect Your Appetite
Studies show that women with high chronic stress levels tend to engage in emotional eating. In addition to psychological responses to stress, there may also be physiological responses. During a stressful event, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that helps the body protect itself. However, if cortisol levels are elevated for a prolonged period of time, such as during repeated and constant stressors, this can lead to increased food consumption, fat storage and weight gain.
Its Totally Normal To Be Feeling All The Feelings Right Now
And remember: Its understandable to look to food to deal with those feelings.
Food provides us with joy, comfort, and sustenance.
We associate it with good memories, big life moments, and meals shared with loved ones.
We might even use food to help define ourselvesin our jobs, cultures, and even relationships.
But the more we use food to bury how we feel, the worse those uncomfortable feelings get.
Its like Robert Frost wrote: The best way out is always through.
Is it the easiest path? No.
But its the only one that will provide relief. And thats something we could all use more of right now.
Our brains tend to work in cycles.
But the stress eating cycle? Its one you can opt out of.
Signs Youre A Stress Eater
If you respond to stress by eating, youre not alone. Chronic stress has become an epidemic in the U.S., and the American Psychological Societys Stress in America survey revealed 42 percent of people report being stress eaters.
How do you know if stress is driving your urge to snack? You might
- Eat when youre not hungry
- Eat more when you feel overwhelmed
- Eat to make yourself feel better
- Think of food as a security blanket in times of stress
- Have difficulty staying away from food when stress levels are high
If you only engage in these behaviors on rare occasions, its not likely cause for concern. However, if food is always your go-to when life gets out of control, you could be at risk for serious health problems.
Eating in response to stress can cause physical, mental, and emotional side effects, including:
- Cravings for comfort foods high in sugar, salt, and fat
- Increased insulin and HbA1c levels
- Higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or self-hatred
In some cases, stress eating may result from or progress to an eating disorder like bulimia or binge eating disorder . Both disorders involve episodes of uncontrolled eating triggered by a variety of factors, including feeling overwhelmed.
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Indulge Without Overeating By Savoring Your Food
When you eat to feed your feelings, you tend to do so quickly, mindlessly consuming food on autopilot. You eat so fast you miss out on the different tastes and textures of your foodas well as your bodys cues that youre full and no longer hungry. But by slowing down and savoring every bite, youll not only enjoy your food more but youll also be less likely to overeat.
Slowing down and savoring your food is an important aspect of mindful eating, the opposite of mindless, emotional eating. Try taking a few deep breaths before starting your food, putting your utensils down between bites, and really focusing on the experience of eating. Pay attention to the textures, shapes, colors and smells of your food. How does each mouthful taste? How does it make your body feel?
Practice mindful eating
Eating while youre also doing other thingssuch as watching TV, driving, or playing with your phonecan prevent you from fully enjoying your food. Since your mind is elsewhere, you may not feel satisfied or continue eating even though youre no longer hungry. Eating more mindfully can help focus your mind on your food and the pleasure of a meal and curb overeating. See Mindful Eating.
Have An Alternative Coping Mechanism In Place
Once youve successfully been interrupted by your note, you NEED to reroute your attention to this preplanned alternative. Examples include:
FaceTiming a friend Working out
You get the idea.
Stress eating is a learned habit, and you CAN recondition your brain to go another route if you have an alternative coping mechanism in place.
Speaking of workouts: I understand you may not be comfortable in a gym right now. With the ongoing pandemic, many of my clients are stuck working out at home.
Thats why I developed the At-Home Handbook, a simple, easy-to-implement program with 90+ exercises you can do without a gym or equipment:
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How To Stop Stress Eating At Night
It is Wednesday evening. Work is over for the day, kids are asleep, and it is time for a little you time. But that you time quickly turns into you and snack time“.
Are you bored? Are you actually hungry? What is, really, going on?
Here is a tip: Have a plan!
It is one of the most overused pieces of advice for a reason. Because it works!
Do you notice a pattern in yourself of constantly fighting off late-night snacking urges? Do you notice that urge oftentimes turning into mindless stress eating? If you do notice these kinds of patterns, then you can come up with a game plan that sets you up for success going forward.
Tips Stop Stress Eating
Here are a few simple tips to prevent stress eating. You can start implementing these right away:
For more stress eating tips check out this article on curbing your emotional macro spending!
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Enjoy The Snackbut Do It Purposefully
If youre turning to snacks as a momentary comfort from stress, Goldman suggests taking a “mini-timeout” to just have that moment of honesty with yourself.
During those few minutes, take a few deep breaths and lean into what it is you’re feeling before giving into the urge to eat immediately. “If someone mindlessly eats ice cream they may feel guilty about it afterwards and that feeling of guilt will impact their next thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,” Goldman explains.
But if you take 15 minutes to check in with yourself? Even if you ultimately decide to eat the ice cream , it will feel like a conscious decision and spare you from creating a cycle of crappy feelings.
How To Stop Stress Eating At Work
You are at work, the staff room is filled with treats and food, and you are having one of those days! HELP! What can you do to stop stress eating at work?
- Plan your day in advance. What are you going to have for lunch? What are your snacks?
- Water, water, water – hydration helps curb hunger
- Reflect on whether or not a tempting food in the staff room might be ineffective vs. effective for you and your goals
- Can you step outside and get some fresh air? Sometimes a change of scenery can do wonders to your mindset!
- Dont deprive yourself! Depending on your goals, a reasonably-sized slice of the homemade banana cake your co-worker brought to celebrate her birthday is likely just fine.
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Take A Minute To Cool Off From Your Stress First
“If I am stressed, I may make a to-do list in order to organize my thoughts and my upcoming scheduleor I may meditate or go for a short walk,” says Alyssa Lavy, RD, of Alyssa Lavy Nutrition & Wellness. “I then check in with my hunger and my desire to eat again. If I still want the food, I allow myself permission to eat that food and enjoy it.”
She warns, though, to keep an eye on portion sizes. But eating a reasonably sized snack or meal should be much easier after taking that moment to emotionally cool off. Because now, your choice to eat will be an intentional one.
Use Compassion To Stop Stress Eating
Instead of beating yourself up about stress-eating, take a self-compassionate approach. This might be the first time in your life you do this, and thats okay. It can feel a bit strange at first.
When you feel bad about yourself or your actions, it can make stress eating worse. This means it can be the perfect time to start practicing self-compassion.
We are not talking about ignoring your problems or giving yourself permission to eat whatever you want. True self-compassion is an attitude of generosity, honesty, and kindness towards yourself. Self-compassion can prevent you from sinking into that screw it mindset that often leads to stress-eating or even binging.
Heres how to do it effectively: when you mess up, give yourself a break. Step back and look at the big picture. Notice what you are doing, thinking, and feeling without judging it.
It is not a mess up or a mistake if you can learn from it and move forward in kindness. If anything, it was a necessary step on your longer-term health journey.
If this feels kind of overly sentimental at first, we get it. Just keep practicing. Like any skill, self-compassion takes practice and repetition. In time, you will learn to see just how effective and powerful it can be.
How To Relieve Stress Without Overeating
When stress affects someone’s appetite and waistline, the individual can forestall further weight gain by ridding the refrigerator and cupboards of high-fat, sugary foods. Keeping those “comfort foods” handy is just inviting trouble.
Here are some other suggestions for countering stress:
Meditation. Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease. Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse.
Exercise. While cortisol levels vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, overall exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
Social support. Friends, family, and other sources of social support seem to have a buffering effect on the stress that people experience. For example, research suggests that people working in stressful situations, like hospital emergency departments, have better mental health if they have adequate social support. But even people who live and work in situations where the stakes aren’t as high need help from time to time from friends and family.
Tips To Avoid Stress Eating For A Better Diet And A Healthy Heart
Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease. Compensating for stress by eating makes it worse. The good news is that we can avoid stress eating with some simple steps. This helps your diet, waistline and heart.
Eating during stressful times helps us deal with feelings. Those feelings could include:
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Stress And Hunger Hormones
Our bodies respond to stress by first pumping out adrenaline . This hormone triggers us into a fight-or-flight response that shuts down our appetite.
But when stress continues unabated, our bodies secrete the stress hormone cortisol and the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Cortisol increases appetite and motivation to eat, while ghrelin increases appetite and reduces depressive feelings . These responses make sense in the context of our ancestral hunter gatherer lifeways.
For our cavemen and women ancestors, stress was most often triggered by calorie restriction. The body responds to caloric restriction by motivating people to find food and rewarding them by secreting natural antidepressant chemicalsghrelin has both hunger and antidepressant effects .
Once stressful triggers subsided, levels of stress hormones would decrease. But when stressors are constant, our stress hormones are stuck in overdrive. Cortisol and ghrelin stay elevated, motivating us to constantly eat.
Fast Facts About Emotional Eating:
- There are both physical and psychological causes for emotional eating.
- Often, emotional eating is triggered by stress or other strong emotions.
- Coping strategies can help a person trying to alleviate the most severe symptoms.
Emotions, such as stress, are not the only triggers for emotional eating. Other common triggers that people report include:
- Boredom: Being bored or having nothing to do is a common emotional eating trigger. Many people live very stimulating and active lives, and when they have nothing to do will turn to food to fill that vacuum.
- Habits: These are often driven by nostalgia or things that happened in a persons childhood. An example might be, having ice cream after a good report card or baking cookies with a grandparent.
- Fatigue: It is easier to overeat or eat mindlessly when fatigued, especially when tired of doing an unpleasant task. Food can seem like the answer to not wanting to do a particular activity anymore.
- Social influences: Everyone has that friend who encourages them to get a pizza after a night out, go out for dinner or drinks after a difficult day, or as a reward for a good day. It can be easy to overeat when with friends or family.
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Does Stress Causes Hunger
You have both physical and psychological relationships with food. Your physical relationship with food is based on the types of foods you choose to eat, your eating behavior, or habits and how your body responds biologically to your diet. Your psychological, or emotional, relationship with food is based on how you think about food, how you use food for reasons other than to relieve hunger, and how food relates your body image, or the way you feel about how you look.
Sometimes you eat to satisfy true hunger, to fulfill a physical need to eat and survive. At other times, such as when you stress-eat, you eat to satisfy your appetite, or your desire for a particular type of food, because you believe it will provide relief. Thats a psychological, or emotional, need that generally has nothing to do with actual hunger. Emotional hunger is a driving response to overwhelming feelings and emotions.
Of course, if youre hungry and stressed at the same time, you may well be eating to satisfy true hunger, adds Allison. But, at the same time, you may choose fast food or a sweet dessert over something more nutritious because, at that moment, youre not trying to eat healthfully.
What To Eat When Feeling Stressed
Foods high in nutrients and antioxidants are not exactly what you might crave in a stressful situation, but they have been shown to decrease stress in the long run by improving immune function or giving a steady source of energy. Instead of reaching for that bag of chips, munch of a handful of fresh blueberries or almonds. Other foods that are high in nutrients and antioxidants are salmon, avocado, asparagus, grass-fed beef, and even dark chocolate.
Read Also: How To Know If You Have Stress Or Anxiety
Therapy For Emotional Eating
Therapy can help a person make lasting changes to their eating habits by showing them healthy coping mechanisms to replace their urges to overeat or binge when stressed. In therapy, clients are supported as they identify their triggers, process their feelings, and adopt new coping skills. Moreover, therapists can also diagnose and address underlying issues like depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions that sometimes co-occur with emotional eating.
Choosing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders can be especially beneficial in this case. Utilizing an online therapist directory is a great tool, as it allows users to filter results by location, insurance, and areas of practice.
In addition to therapy, some may also benefit from support groups like Overeaters Anonymous or Food Addicts Anonymous, where they can relate to and receive encouragement from others experiencing similar struggles..
Bring Out Your Inner Chef
Some good things come along with being stuck at home. Not having the option to eat out at restaurants makes you cook more meals yourself, which has been shown to improve overall health.
For example, a study in 11,396 people found that eating home-cooked meals more frequently was associated with a greater intake of fruits and vegetables.
Plus, it found that people who ate home-cooked meals more than 5 times per week were 28% less likely to be overweight and 24% less likely to have excess body fat, compared with those who ate home-cooked meals less than 3 times per week .
Whats more, planning your meals a few days ahead can help you kill time and has even been shown to improve diet quality and reduce obesity risk (
To combat dehydration, add a few slices of fresh fruit to your water to boost its flavor, which may help you drink more water throughout the day without adding a significant amount of sugar or number of calories to your diet.
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