Stress eating is a common phenomenon that you may have experienced at some point in your life. It’s the act of eating in response to your emotions, rather than because you’re actually feeling hungry. However, identifying whether you’re genuinely hungry or eating to comfort yourself can be more than a little challenging, especially if your eating habits have been linked with your mental state for an extended period of time.
With stress being a significant cause of emotional eating, it’s essential to understand its impact on your body and your eating habits. An article (By Championhealth) on statistics of stress in the UK recently said that:
74% of people feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation and YouGov).
Why Does Stress Make You Want To Eat?
Stress and overeating seem to go hand in hand, thanks to our lovely adrenal glands. When you experience short-term stress, your body sends adrenaline out to temporarily put your eating habits on hold. However, if stress persists, your adrenal glands release the notorious cortisol hormone, which ramps up your appetite and motivation to eat.
So, if you’re feeling stressed, get ready to raid the pantry because cortisol is coming in hot, and it’s not leaving until the stress is gone.
Stress And Weight Gain
It seems that when it comes to stress and food, we tend to gravitate towards the sugary and fatty treats that leave you feeling oh so satisfied. You can blame this on our good friends cortisol and insulin, who team up to make you crave all the wrong things. And let’s not forget about ghrelin, the hunger hormone that likes to throw its weight around. But it’s not just overeating that you have to worry about when stress comes knocking. You will also tend to lose sleep, skip your workouts, and indulge in a little too much liquid courage. It’s like stress and weight gain are in a committed relationship, and you’re the third wheel. But don’t worry, with a little bit of effort, you can break up this dysfunctional duo and keep your waistlines in check.
In an article by Health.Harvard they had this to say “ How much cortisol people produce in response to stress may also factor into the stress–weight gain equation. In 2007, British researchers designed an ingenious study that showed that people who responded to stress with high cortisol levels in an experimental setting were more likely to snack in response to daily hassles in their regular lives than low-cortisol responders.”
So now you know those pesky stressors like, “that” person at work and your bank balance are causing your hormones to go out of whack, what now? Are you merely a victim of your hormones and the delicious confectionery at your local coffee haunt?
Checklist: Are You Stress Eating?
- Have you noticed changes in your eating habits when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you find yourself eating even when you’re not hungry, or continuing to eat after you feel full?
- Do you turn to food as a way to avoid dealing with a stressful situation?
- Do you find yourself searching for high fat, high sugar foods?
- Do you use food to comfort yourself when feeling bored, lonely, anxious, or other uncomfortable emotions?
- Do you use food as a reward for yourself after accomplishing something, or as a way to cope with stress in general?
- Do you judge or punish yourself after eating certain foods? E.G telling yourself you have eaten something bad or naughty?
- How do you keep yourself hydrated in stressful times? Do you still drink lots of water, or do you choose more alcohol, fizzy drinks or coffee instead?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it may be a sign that you’re stress eating. It’s important to be mindful of your eating habits and to find healthier ways to cope with stress.
How Do You Stop Stress Eating?
Managing your stress in healthier ways can do wonders for reducing your body’s stress response and those pesky stress hormones. One such way is through mindfulness. Studies have shown that mindfulness reduces stress and helps people become more aware of their food choices, so you can say “namaste” to stress eating.
Another way to fight stress is through exercise – but be warned, cortisol levels may vary depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise. So, if you’re feeling extra stressed, maybe skip the intense boot camp class and opt for some gentle yoga or tai chi, which combine exercise and meditation. You’ll be feeling zen in no time.
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of social support from friends and family. Even though they can be a source of stress themselves, studies have shown that they can also have a buffering effect on stress. So, don’t be afraid to call up your BFF and vent about your stress – just make sure to return the favor when they’re stressing about their own problems.
In conclusion, stress is inevitable, and we cannot always change the circumstances that cause it. However, you can change your response to stress by recognizing unhealthy habits like stress eating and finding healthier ways to cope. Mindfulness, exercise, and social support from friends and family are effective ways to manage stress and reduce the body’s stress response and those pesky stress hormones. By being mindful of your eating habits and making small lifestyle changes, you can break up the dysfunctional duo of stress and weight gain and lead a healthier, happier life.
effective ways to manage stress and reduce the body’s stress response and those pesky stress hormones. By being mindful of your eating habits and making small lifestyle changes, you can break up the dysfunctional duo of stress and weight gain and lead a healthier, happier life.