Eat Like THIS When You’re Stressed
0:00 – Intro – Eat Like THIS When You’re Stressed to Avoid Weight Gain
0:59 – Use Code THOMAS2022 for 20% off Organifi!
2:29 – The Issue When Stressed (cortisol & carbs)
4:12 – When You Eat When Stressed, This Happens
5:22 – If Stressed, Eat This
6:51 – Snacks I Recommend when Stressed
8:29 – Load Up on Vitamin C
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SOME ADDITIONAL REFERENCES
HERE’S WHY YOU STRESS EAT — AND HOW TO STOP DOING IT
It should come as no surprise that Americans are stressed.
A 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that money, work, crime, violence, the political climate and the future of the nation are all significant stressors for Americans, each plaguing more than half of the survey respondents.
While stress is bad for the body, the ways people deal with it can be just as unhealthy.
The APA found in a different survey that almost 40% of adults reported overeating or consuming junk food in response to stress during the prior month. And of those people, about half said they did so weekly.
What is it about food — particularly junk food — that calls to so many of us during stressful times? Here’s what the experts say about stress eating.
Why you stress eat
People look for comfort in food for both physiological and psychological reasons.
The hormone cortisol rises with chronic stress and can lead to increased appetite, says registered dietitian Allison Knott. “It can be true hunger if you have extended stress that is promoting this cortisol production to the point of impacting your appetite,” she says.
But just as often, food is used as a “numbing strategy,” says Amanda Baten, a nutritional psychologist. “It’s a distraction strategy in the same way that people might use alcohol or drugs or sex or TV as ways to create a buffer between themselves and whatever difficult feelings they might be experiencing.”
Eating can even spark some of the same neurological reactions that drugs do, albeit to a lesser extent.
Brain imaging research has shown that when people binge on carbohydrates and sugars, “it can actually activate the pleasure centers of the brain,” Baten says. Research has shown that sugar, like heroin or cocaine, can cause the feel-good chemical dopamine to flood the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward. Sugar can also release endogenous opioids, the body’s natural painkillers, which creates a pleasant effect.
But just like drugs and alcohol, emotional eating is a bandage for stress, rather than a cure.
A healthier response, Baten says, is recognizing that stress and negative emotions happen, and that we have to find sustainable ways to cope with them.
“We are raised in a culture that tells us we should not have negative feelings — we shouldn’t be sad, we shouldn’t be angry,” Baten says. “There’s a distinction to be made between what’s an appropriate and healthy negative emotion that actually guides us to problem-solve by tolerating that feeling, versus what becomes the unhealthy negative emotional reaction or feeling.”
How to tell if you’re 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 don’t necessarily recognize what is happening.”
To avoid mindless eating, it’s important to understand the difference between emotional and physical hunger. Before you tear open a bag of chips, take stock of how you’re feeling physically and mentally, Knott says. Hunger feels different for everybody, but it’s often accompanied by physical symptoms like a growling or empty stomach, low energy and headache. If you’re craving snacks without any of these physical signs, you may simply be looking for comfort or a distraction, Knott says.
“If you aren’t 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.
How to stop stress eating
When you’re 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.
“It’s important to pay attention to our feelings before they become so intensified that we can’t think clearly,” Baten says. “Emotional eating is happening because there’s an emotional need that isn’t being fulfilled.”
But it’s 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.
“We, unfortunately, put a lot of emphasis on our individual food choices, and there can be guilt connected to some of those more indulgent choices, which can ultimately lead to more stress,” Knott says. “It really is about your pattern of eating and having a healthful diet in a sustainable, long period of time. That can include these indulgences in this overarching diet pattern.”
How do I stop stress eating?
Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations.
Many people experience emotional eating at one time or another. It could show itself as eating a bag of chips when bored or eating a chocolate bar after a difficult day at work.
However, when emotional eating happens frequently or becomes the main way a person deals with their emotions, then their life, health, happiness, and weight can be negatively affected.
Triggers to avoid
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 person’s 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.
The first step a person needs to take to rid themselves of emotional eating is to recognize the triggers and situations that apply in their life.
Keeping a food diary or journal can help to identify situations when someone is more likely to eat because of emotional instead of physical hunger.
Tracking their behavior is another way someone can gain insight into their eating habits.
The behavior they record can include:
- patterns of hunger levels, maybe on a 1–10 scale
- what they are doing and if it is tedious and unpleasant
- what they are feeling, whether bored or angry
Next, they may want to brainstorm ideas for ways to counteract the triggers they identify. For example:
- Someone who eats when bored may want to find a new book that sounds exciting to start reading, or start a new hobby that could provide a challenge.
- Someone who eats because of stress could try yoga, meditating, or taking a walk to help themselves cope with their emotions.
- Someone who eats when they are depressed may want to call a friend, take the dog for a run, or plan an outing to cope with their negative feelings.
It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist or psychologist to discuss other ways to break the cycle of emotional eating.
A nutritionist or doctor may also be able to provide a referral to an expert or additional information on creating positive eating habits and a better relationship with food.
Emotional eating is not simply a matter of a person lacking self-discipline or needing to eat less. Likewise, people who eat to deal with stress do not just lack self-control.
The causes are complex and may involve some of the following:
For some people, emotional eating is a learned behavior. During childhood, their parents give them treats to help them deal with a tough day or situation, or as a reward for something good.
Over time, the child who reaches for a cookie after getting a bad grade on a test may become an adult who grabs a box of cookies after a rough day at work.
In an example such as this, the roots of emotional eating are deep, which can make breaking the habit extremely challenging.
Difficulty dealing with emotions
It is common for people to also struggle with difficult or uncomfortable feelings and emotions. There is an instinct or need to quickly fix or destroy these negative feelings, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors.
And emotional eating is not only linked to negative emotions. Eating a lot of candy at a fun Halloween party, or too much on Thanksgiving are examples of eating because of the holiday occasion itself.
Physical impact of stress
There are also some physical reasons why stress and strong emotions can cause a person to overeat:
- High cortisol levels: Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not let up, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat.
- Cravings: High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
- Sex: Some research shows that women are more likely to use food to deal with stress than men are, while men are more likely than women to smoke or use alcohol.
Physical vs. emotional hunger
- It is very easy to mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. But there are characteristics that distinguish them.
Recognizing these subtle differences is the first step towards helping to stop emotional eating patterns.
Does the hunger come on quickly or gradually?
Emotional hunger tends to hit quickly and suddenly and feels urgent. Physical hunger is usually not as urgent or sudden unless it has been a while since a person ate.
Is a food craving for a specific food?
Emotional hunger is usually associated with cravings for junk food or something unhealthy. Someone who is physically hungry will often eat anything, while someone who is emotionally hungry will want something specific, such as fries or a pizza.
Is there such a thing as mindless eating?
Mindless eating is when someone eats without paying attention to or enjoying what they are consuming.
An example is eating an entire container of ice cream while watching television, having not intended to eat that much. This behavior usually happens with emotional eating, not eating through hunger.
Does the hunger come from the stomach or the head?
Emotional hunger does not originate from the stomach, such as with a rumbling or growling stomach. Emotional hunger tends to start when a person thinks about a craving or wants something specific to eat.
Are there feelings of regret or guilt after emotional eating?
Giving in to a craving, or eating because of stress can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt. These responses tend to be associated with emotional hunger.
On the other hand, satisfying a physical hunger is giving the body the nutrients or calories it needs to function and is not associated with negative feelings.
Emotional eating is a common experience and is not usually associated with physical hunger. Some people succumb to it occasionally while others can find it impacts on their lives and may even threaten their health and mental wellbeing.
Anyone who experiences negative emotions around their eating habits should arrange a visit to their doctor to discuss their issues. They may also want to consult a registered nutritionist or another therapist to help them find solutions or coping mechanisms.
The links above are affiliate links, so I receive a small commission every time you use them to purchase a product. The content contained in this video, and its accompanying description, is not intended to replace viewers’ relationships with their own medical practitioner. Always speak with your doctor regarding the content of this channel, and especially before using any products, services, or devices discussed on this channel or website.