Do you ever find yourself snacking more than usual when you’re feeling stressed? If so, you may be engaging in stress eating. This is a common coping mechanism for dealing with stress, but it can lead to weight gain and other health problems if it’s done too often.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating is when you eat in response to stress, even if you’re not hungry. This can be a way of coping with stressful situations or emotions.
What are the signs of stress eating?
When people experience stress for long periods of time their body produces a hormone called cortisol, which makes them hungry and can cause them to overeat. The problem, of course, is that this can lead to weight gain and all the associated health problems that come with it.
There are several signs that you may be stress eating. If you find yourself eating when you’re not hungry, or eating more than usual, this may be a sign that you’re stress eating. People also tend to eat more sugary or fatty foods when you’re stressed.
Eating chocolate or junk food might give us a momentary boost, but studies have shown that these foodstuffs actually increase our anxiety in the longer term. This is because sugar impacts the hippocampus, which is responsible for our stress response. This leads to the production of even more cortisol, which sets off a vicious cycle of overeating that is very difficult to get out of.
In addition, when you are stress eating, you may also find yourself not wanting to eat healthy foods. You may skip meals or not eat as well balanced of a diet as you normally would.
The Impact of Stress Eating on your Mental and Physical Health
The impact of stress eating can be significant. As I already mentioned, it can lead to weight gain and all the health problems that come with it, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
In addition, if you’re not eating healthy foods, you may not be getting the nutrients your body needs, which can impact your physical health.
Stress eating can also impact your mental health. When you’re constantly overeating, you may feel guilty or ashamed. This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and depression, along with the anxiety that is exacerbated by the high levels of cortisol flowing through your body.
What can you do to prevent stress eating?
There are a few things you can do to avoid stress eating, or at least minimize the damage it does:
Find other ways to cope with stress. This may include exercise, meditation, journaling, or talking to a friend. Try relaxation techniques such as yoga or deep breathing exercises.
Make sure you’re eating regular, healthy meals. Skipping meals can make you more likely to overeat when you do eat.
Avoid trigger foods. If there are certain foods that you tend to overeat when you’re stressed, try to avoid them. This may mean not keeping them in the house, or not going to places where they’re served.
Avoid social media. Social media can be a source of stress and can also trigger cravings for unhealthy foods. If you find yourself stress eating, try staying off social media for a while.
Talk to someone about what you’re going through. If you’re struggling to cope with stress, you can reach out to friends and family for support. If the stress is related to work, talk to someone at HR. The best way to stop stress eating is to tackle the core cause and reduce the stress you are experiencing.
Stress eating is a common coping mechanism, but it’s not a healthy one. If you think you may be stress eating, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. They can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your stress eating.
While stress eating can have some negative consequences, there are things you can do to minimize the impact it has on your life. With a little effort, you can learn to cope with stress in a healthy way and avoid overeating. That will be the first step towards a stronger, healthier version of yourself.