Why Do We Reach For Food When Stressed
While overeating can be driven by several factors from availability and boredom to depression, the bodys physical stress response can also play a role. While stress can cause some people to refrain from eating for long periods, others will gravitate towards food. When youre feeling stressed, your body releases cortisol , which can lead to cravings for sugary, salty and fatty foods as your brain believes it requires fuel to fight whatever perceived threat is causing your feelings of stress.
While occasional food indulgence can be an enjoyable part of ones diet, repeatedly overeating can become problematic when the brain is conditioned to believe that junk food is what we need in order to feel better during stressful situations. Pretty soon, we can find ourselves repeatedly reaching for food in response to stress in our environment.
What Are Some Of The Causes Of Emotional Eating
- Boredom: We all have different definitions of boredom, but it usually focuses around having nothing to do or the task we are doing just seems pointless. This can leave us searching for something to pass the time by, enticing us to eat and potentially leading to emotional eating.
- Old habits: Maybe your work colleagues would order fast food for the office for lunch every day, and even though you’re in a new job now, you still find yourself ordering fast food several times a day. I always say that habits are learned, which means they can be unlearned and replaced with a new, healthier habit.
- Finances, work stress, and social interactions: Too much or too little social interaction can influence our cravings. If you’re pent up with your spouse or roommates, and they tend to eat a lot of junk food, you may be tempted to do so as well. Maybe after a big blowout fight you feel the need to eat lots of sugar, or perhaps you just feel lonely and a warm cookie feels like a big hug at the end of the stressful work day. This is all fine if you truly listen to your body, honor your cravings, and feel in control. But if stress seems to be leading your emotions to get the best of you and resulting in poor food choices over and over again, it may be time to make a change. Food is food it’s not your best friend and it’s not your worst enemy. If you’re looking to food to solve your problems, you’ll quickly realize it won’t.
Food To Help Manage Stress
Eating a well-balanced diet may help reduce the impact that stress has on your body by lowering blood pressure, boosting immune health, and stabilizing mood .
Here are some examples of foods that may help reduce stress :
- Vitamin C rich foods, such as oranges and grapefruit .
- Complex carbs such as whole grain, vegetables, and fruit .
- Magnesium-rich foods such as spinach and salmon .
- Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, walnuts, and pistachios .
Recommended Reading: How Do You Handle Stress
Develop Awareness Of Your Habits
If youve ever found yourself magically at the end of a packet of biscuits while working at your laptop or polishing off a tub of hummus while cooking, then you may need to work on your food awareness. Are you someone who eats very healthily throughout the day, but at dinnertime you struggle to control your portions? Or maybe youre a desktop muncher, always with a snack at your computer? No matter your pattern, spend some time trying to bring awareness to the times of day and situations that cause you to overeat. Once you create awareness around the habits that are working against you, you can more easily apply some of the tools below to help resolve them.
How To Tell If Youre Stress Eating
While some people purposely and consciously dive into a pint of ice cream after a trying day, others may stress eat without even knowing it, Knott says. People get on autopilot, she says. It becomes part of our lives, and we dont necessarily recognize what is happening.
To avoid mindless eating, its important to understand the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Before you tear open a bag of chips, take stock of how youre feeling physically and mentally, Knott says. Hunger feels different for everybody, but its often accompanied by physical symptoms like a growling or empty stomach, low energy and headache. If youre craving snacks without any of these physical signs, you may simply be looking for comfort or a distraction, Knott says.
If you arent truly hungry and it is a comfort food type of response, or a way to manage the stress that is related to using food to soothe, then you might want to take a different approach, Knott says.
Also Check: Can You Get Tinnitus From Stress
What Is Stress Eating
This is the situation where you are stressed out and you eat either different than you are used to and/or in different quantities or frequencies than you are used to. Weve all been there, a break-up, a bad test grade, a bad day at the office, a fight with a best friend, or maybe even a coronavirus pandemic. We dont always know how to deal and a lot of times we end up coping with food.
Let me just clear the air before we get into the details. It is OKAY to cope with food in the short term, it happens, we are only human. HOWEVER, if coping with food becomes completely uncontrollable, makes you feel mentally or physically ill or causes some negative effect to your health, it may be time to make some changes and/or get some help.
In fact, if you feel that this is something completely out of your control and feels like it may be an eating disorder, do not hesitate to reach out and get help ASAP.
Determine Why Youre Emotional Eating
What is it that plagues you? It may seem the root of your problem is the desire to stress eat. But, I propose that there is a driver beneath those cravings.
Pause for a moment and pay attention to the thoughts that run continuously in your mind :
- What worries make your stomach churn?
- Which anxieties make your heart race?
- What thoughts run through your mind as you lay in bed at night?
These are the deeper source of your unhappiness and what ultimately causes you to look through the pantry like a mom whos running late and lost her keys.
Also Check: How Can I Lower My Stress
How Do I Know If My Cravings Are From Emotional Stress
I like to look at cravings by whether they are coming from above the neck or below the neck. Above the neck cravings are emotional, often come on suddenly and aren’t satisfied even after a full meal. If you give in to above the neck cravings, they may sometimes trigger feelings of shame and guilt, and you may feel like you have absolutely no control over your food choices.
Below the neck cravings are not emotional, but rather a sign of physical hunger. It builds gradually and many food options sound appealing. Once you’re sensibly full, the cravings go away. Below the neck cravings aren’t associated with any feelings of guilt or anger, but rather you feel satisfied and maybe relieved after eating that particular food or meal.
Sometimes, these cravings may be hard to distinguish between. Has overeating sugary foods at night become a habit or does your body really crave them? Have you been training your body by giving in to those above the neck cravings every night to expect a surge of sugary foods, only to create almost a dependency and need for the food at a certain time of the day? Think back to when this habit started and try to practice mindful eating to be more in tune with your body and its true physical hunger needs.
Tips To Manage Stress Eating
Have you ever felt like eating a piece of chocolate cake or a bag of chips after a stressful day at work? If so, youre not alone. Studies show that stressful events activate systems associated with metabolism, cognition and reward.
What does this mean for your waistline? It means that the candy bar you are reaching for after a stressful event may be driven by a combination of physiological and psychological factors.
Recommended Reading: Can Stress Cause You To Spit Up Blood
What Can We Do At The Moment
It may not be as easy as it sounds, but when youre feeling stressed and crave food as a distraction, you have better options. Reducing sources of stress is one major part of managing stress. Finding productive ways to cope with stress is the other, Dennett tells us. When feeling the urge to stress eat, it can help to ask, What do I need right now? What you need isnt a box of cookies, per se, its to feel calmer, which is a perfectly legitimate need!
This goes back to the act of mindfulness and asking yourself why youre going to eat what youre reaching for. If its not true hunger but an emotional resolve, take a step back. Then you can ask yourself what tools are at your disposal to soothe and calm yourself. You might decide that a walk, some meditation, a favorite movie, a talk with a friend, or cuddle time with a pet or partner will meet your needs. If you always reach for food when youre stressed, youve formed a habit around it and may not even be considering other options, Dennett explains.
Stress & Eating Habits: How To Manage Stress & Eat Healthy During The Holidays
Sticking to a healthy eating plan to lose weight can be challenging, especially during the holidays when our stress levels can be at their highest. The physical changes associated with stress can make us more vulnerable to emotional eating, or eating to cope with feelings. Read on to learn how stress affects our eating habits and tips to help you stay healthy this holiday season.
How stress affects our eating habits
Stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, interact with insulin levels and hunger hormones, which can lead to urges to eat high fat, high sugar foods. Additionally, calorically dense foods can activate the brains reward system, meaning the brain learns that unhealthy foods actually can reduce negative emotions for a short time.
Because unhealthy foods are widely available during the holidays and activate the brains reward system, many people find themselves emotionally eating to cope with stress and negative emotions that can be associated with the holiday season. Eating high fat, high sugar foods can provide relief from stress in the moment but can result in bingeing and even feelings of guilt or shame.
During periods of high stress, we have fewer mental and emotional resources available. This can make it more difficult to make healthy food decisions, especially at the end of a long day. We might end up stress-eating to cope with emotions rather than meeting our physical needs for nourishment with healthy food choices.
Don’t Miss: How To Un Stress Yourself
How To Stop Stress Eating
When youre in the throes of a stressful situation, just about any healthy distraction like going for a walk, getting fresh air, doing a quick guided meditation or calling a friend can help you avoid the draw of junk food, Baten says. Drinking water may also help, since people often confuse hunger and thirst.
But in the long-term, getting at the root cause of your stress is more important than stopping yourself from snacking in the moment. Healthy habits like exercise, sleep and proper nutrition are all sustainable stress relievers, Baten says. And if you consistently struggle with emotional or stress eating, Baten says, it may be worth speaking with a professional, who can help you sort out underlying issues.
Its important to pay attention to our feelings before they become so intensified that we cant think clearly, Baten says. Emotional eating is happening because theres an emotional need that isnt being fulfilled.
But its also important to acknowledge that your emotions will win out from time to time and beating yourself up for occasionally choosing comfort food will only add to your stress.
How To Identify Stress Eating
Sometimes it can be difficult to see when your regular eating due to nutritional needs and hunger ends and the emotional or stress eating begins. However, there are some things that you can keep in mind to help you identify your own stress-eating behaviours.
If you eat as soon as you feel negative emotions or experience conflict without feeling hungry prior to those feelings, then there is a good chance that you are stress eating and searching for comfort in food. The same is true for strong cravings when you become upset or have an urge to eat in response to memories, stress, or reminders or trauma.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of people eat when they are bored. If you find yourself heading to the kitchen during commercial breaks or when you have nothing else to do, then there may be an issue with your eating habits.
Don’t Miss: What Helps With Stress Acne
What Is Stress Eating & How Does It Affect You
As it is more popularly known, stress eating, or emotional eating is a coping mechanism in response to environmental variables. Or in more human terms, whenever you are stressed or feeling an intense amount of anger or sadness, you tend to find comfort in food. Often, this comfort food falls in the unhealthy category.
The pandemic has disrupted just about everyones lives. From the idea of losing loved ones to the pressure of working abnormally long hours to job security, all this has resulted in stress levels rising. This is what makes reaching out for that next snack so good.
While gorging on unhealthy food can seem to be the solution, it is not. It is just a short-term answer and ignoring the underlying problem will only make things worse. Such food also causes damage to your health . Here are some tips that may help.
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.
You May Like: What Stress Does To Your Body
Why We Eat To Cope With Emotions
When we experience negative emotions, we want to fill that void somehow to feel better, and food is something that can fill that void.
The problem with this is that food is only a temporary fix, and using food to cope with negative emotions can create an unhealthy relationship with food, weight issues, etc.
Hormones can also play a role in emotional eating. When were under stress, this increases cortisol levels , which may increase cravings for food .
Some of the tips below are proactive tips to help you manage stress. Youll also find some tips you can use when youre on the verge of stress eating.
How To Stop Emotional Eating From Stress
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
As anyone whos watching their weight will tell you that hunger is just one of many reasons that people eat. Those with a tendency toward emotional eating are especially vulnerable to making poor choices.
If youre an emotional eater, you may find yourself eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions, using food as a reward when youre happy, and craving sweets or unhealthy snacks when stressed. Dont worryyoure not alone! The following ideas can help you to cut down emotional eating and develop healthier eating habits, even when you’re stressed.
Helpful Supplements For The Season
Oil of oregano has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and potential cancer-preventive properties. Carvacrol, an active ingredient in the oil, is a strong antioxidant. The oil can be used to clear lungs and bronchial passages by mixing with a carrier oil and rubbing it on the chest and aching muscles or by boiling it with hot water or adding it to a vaporizer to inhale the steam.
Elderberry is packed with nutrients including calcium, vitamin C, fibre, iron, and antioxidants that are known to help stimulate your immune system and fight inflammation. Elderberries have shown positive effects on the length and severity of flu and common cold symptoms. Find them at your natural health store as a syrup, in teas, gummies, lozenges, or pills.
Vitamin C has long been a go-to supplement for colds and flu. A critical analysis of 29 research trials involving 11,306 participants found that vitamin C reduced the duration of colds by 8 percent in adults and 14 percent in children. Researchers also found that the severity of colds was significantly reduced. Vitamin C comes in a number of forms, including chewables, tablets, capsules, and effervescent drink powders.
Tiffany Mayer is a journalist based in St. Catharines, Ontario. She finds no shortage of inspiration in the Niagara Region where she lives.