If you have found yourself eating out of anxiousness, stress, boredom or fatigue you are likely an emotional eater. Don’t panic, you definitely aren’t the only one. In fact, eating when you’re feeling emotional is normal behavior but if eating excessively is your first response to a difficult situation - then you have a problem.
Those that struggle with their weight and who generally are careful about what they eat are surprisingly most susceptible to stress eating. At times of stress, they cave into whatever they initially are depriving themselves of and choose to indulge as a coping mechanism.
The hormones released during moments of stress and how it responds to fatty and sugary foods pushes us to eat which is why numerous studies have found associations with weight gain and stress. Stress temporarily suppresses appetite due to the responses by structures in the brain but the release of cortisol by the kidneys urges you to look for ways to counter its effects.
The cravings for fat and sugary foods
Stress actually changes your preference for food, you could be someone who makes healthy choices when it comes to food but in moments of stress you’ll find yourself craving fats and sugary foods. A combination of cortisol and ghrelin, the “hunger hormone,” causes you to turn to fatty and sugar-filled goodies that make you feel good for a few moments.
Once you consume fats and sugars, they affect that portion of the brain that produces stress hormones which is why people have the urge to turn to such foods.
People who continuously turn to food to deal with stress can put on weight very easily. Stress-eating on its own may not be the only culprit to weight gain. Stress leads to lack of sleep, they exercise less and resort to drinking more alcohol – all of which contribute to weight gain.
There is research out there which suggests that women are more likely to eat out of stress than men. Women are more likely to turn to food, alcohol, and smoking to cope with stress. A study conducted in Finland revealed associations between obesity and stress amongst their female participants but not their male participants.
Research by Harvard found that those that are overweight from the beginning are more likely to gain weight from stress at work and other problems. Experts believe that this could be due to higher insulin levels. The amount of cortisol produced by people is another major contributor to how much weight they gain.
Here are a few ways you can prevent yourself from stress-eating:
1) Don’t skip meals:
If you do not want to overeat then skipping meals is a big NO. Waiting too long between meals releases ghrelin and forces you to eat more than you actually need to.
2) Plan your meals:
Planning your meals well in advance reduces impulsive behavior when it comes to deciding what to eat. You are less likely to order greasy takeout if you already have a meal planned from before.
3) Distract yourself:
Getting caught up in your thoughts will lead you to getting overwhelmed and push you towards food. You need to learn to control your thoughts by breaking the unproductive cycle of over-thinking. Try taking a brisk walk around your area or meet up with some close friends – anything that prevents you from thinking excessively and possibly turning to food for instant pleasure.
4) Managing stress:
You have got to know that eating is not an adequate response to stress so find yourselves healthier ways of dealing with it. Exercise would be the healthiest way of coping with stress. It releases endorphins that improve your mood and combat stress.