Ever find yourself reaching for a bag of chips or a piece of cake after a stressful day- just to feel better? If so, you are definitely not alone on this. It is perfectly human to want to avoid pain and seek relief. This is the reason why we often- consciously or unconsciously- turn to foods for relief and comfort when we are at our weakest point emotionally. Studies have also supported that stressful events activate systems associated with metabolism, cognition and reward and eating out of stress may be driven by a combination of physiological and psychological factors.
Emotional eating, also called Stress eating, is exactly what it sounds like: eating not to satisfy physical hunger but eating out of stress or boredom. While this may sound like a perfectly normal and justifiable action, stress eating can take a huge toll on your health, without you even knowing about it. Instead of fixing your emotional problems, it usually makes you feel worse. And on top of that, Stress eating often leads to overeating — especially too much of unhealthy high-calorie, sweet and fatty foods, that can sabotage your health in the long run.
Does Stress Cause Hunger?
Our connection with food includes both physical and psychological factors. The physical connection deals with our actual hunger and the type of food we choose to consume. Meanwhile, the psychological connection is linked with how we think about food, how we use food for reasons other than to relieve hunger, and how we relate food with our physical look. And oftentimes, the psychological take over the physical, making us impulsively indulge in foods to satisfy the overwhelming feelings and emotional hunger, which has nothing to do with actual physical hunger.
Studies show that the biological reason we turn to food during stress may be because incessant stress causes the secretion of high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol into the bloodstream, triggering cravings for unhealthy foods and increase appetite. Therefore, the more uncontrolled stress, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief. It is also suggested that elevated cortisol levels related to stress are known to be higher in obese women than in women at a healthier weight and that women with high chronic stress levels tend to engage more in emotional eating.
Causes of Emotional Eating
Apart from stress, many triggers can contribute to emotional eating. Positive feelings such as rewarding yourself for certain achievements, happy events, etc. are also responsible for triggering emotional eating. It is important to identify your triggers to help deal with your unhealthy habit of emotional eating. Other common triggers include:
- Fatigue: It is especially easy to overeat and subconsciously indulge in unhealthy foods to make ourselves feel better after a long day of work.
- Blocking emotions: Eating can be a great way to temporarily block and forget about unpleasant emotions like sadness, fear, anger, loneliness, shame, anxiety, etc.
- Boredom: Eating out of boredom is a common practice to keep yourself occupied and distracted from the mundane monotonous situations in life.
- Childhood habits: Certain foods can hold emotional values and we often find ourselves indulging in them not because it is healthful but because of the attachment, it has to you- be it childhood habits, memories, or even nostalgia.
- Social influences: This is one of the many reasons where the psychological takes over the physical need for food. It is easy to overindulge in public gatherings to keep up with others. One also tends to eat out of nervousness, or perhaps you are being encouraged to indulge more.
How to Avoid Stress Eating
First and foremost, controlling your stress levels is extremely crucial to avoid overeating due to stress or emotion. It is important to address and identify the stressor right away, and learn to be prepared to confront stressful situations rather than resorting to foods that can eat away your health before you know it. Here are several practices you can focus on to help you in your effort:
- Identify Your Triggers
Take time to think and focus on what made you eat in the first place. Identifying the circumstances and emotions behind your stress-eating will help you in finding a solution for your stress healthily instead of stuffing your face with foods every time you find yourself stressed-out or feeling low. Recognizing and identifying the root cause of your stress can help you avoid the unhealthy habit.
- Reduce Stress with Exercise
Individuals who are physically fit are more resistant to the effects of stress. Physical activities like exercise help release chemicals in the brain inhibiting and reducing stress. Apart from this, it also helps distract your mind from the thought of indulging in unhealthy snacks which can become a habit over time. Moderate exercise from simply walking around the block, gardening, to household chores can be a great help in reducing stress.
- Practice Mindfulness
Stress reduction techniques like meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness-based exercises and programs help calm the mind and the body. You are better able to make smarter and healthier lifestyle choices when you are mindful, calm, and focused. It helps you in identifying your feelings, gives you time slow down and focus on the problems thoughtfully and help you fight the automatic urge to reach for a snack.
- Learn To Eat Intuitively
One of the best practices to avoid stress-eating is to learn how to eat intuitively. Intuitive eating is all about the signals between your brain and gut and learning how to identify and trust them, which can help you in determining what, when, and how much to eat. Once you learn to recognize and trust these signals, you can easily stop yourself from eating impulsively and know when to intuitively say “enough!” Intuitive eating enables you to differentiate the difference between true physical hunger from the hunger that resulted from stress or the need for emotional comfort.
- Reach Out For Help
Find someone with who you can share your feelings and your unhealthy responses to stress. When it comes to dealing with stress, having close friends and family is important as they can give you the support you need to get through tough situations. Dealing with stress all alone can lead to many other unhealthy things, not just overeating. This is why it is extremely important to reach out for help in such situations.
It is scientifically proven that drinking tea is linked with a positive mood and feeling of relaxation, that its chemical properties can make the brain more alert and help recover from stress. So if ever you find yourself in a stressful situation, reach out for our Daily Calm Tea instead of a bag of chips. It will clear your mind instantly and the weight lifted with each sip.
Also, not to brag, but our Stresaway Tablets are the ideal stress-buster. It contains a complex blend of potent herbs that work synergistically to promote mental relaxation and help you remain calm during stressful situations. Overcoming stress-eating has never been safer and easier with these two products.
Your body is a complex system and may not always do what you require it to do. It is important to be kind to yourself, especially in times of stressful situations. Stress-eating is a part of life and happens to everyone sometimes. However, it is important to not beat yourself up with shame and guilt after, as it can be more damaging than the initial stress which led you to overeat in the first place. Focusing and following these simple practices can come a long way in helping you with stress-eating and stress in general. But if all else fails, go ahead and indulge! Sit down, relax, and learn to enjoy and appreciate the taste of the food. But of course, moderation is key!