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Stress Eating: How do I stop it?

We all know there are healthy and productive ways to manage stress. Nevertheless, many of us fall prey to our own worst impulses by treating stress and emotional upset in unhealthy ways. One of the most common traps for unhealthy ways of coping with stress is stress eating. 

It is simply easy to relieve stress by turning to foods that bring us comfort. Whether we are binging on sweets to bring us comfort, or overeating to assuage bad feelings, stress eating is a common and unhealthy way of dealing with stress and anxiety. 

There are obvious reasons why stress eating is a dangerous coping mechanism. Stress eating can completely undo our dieting and weight loss efforts. If stress eating becomes a routine way of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression it can lead to all manner of health problems. 

The key to avoiding stress eating is to first identify the problem. Once we have recognized that we are stress eating, we can find all kinds of healthier and more productive ways of handling stress. 

What exactly is stress eating? How can you begin to manage stress eating? And what are some healthy ways to avoid stress eating and substitute more constructive behaviors to manage stress? This guide will give you the information you need to understand and manage stress eating. 

What is stress eating?

Stress eating is sometimes referred to as emotional eating. For many people, eating more food, or eating an excessive amount of a specific type of food, can function as a way of coping with stress, anxiety, or depression. The crucial feature of stress eating is that it is not motivated by hunger. Stress eating means you are eating even when you are not hungry. 

Sometimes stress eating can stem from physiological changes in the body. Stress can cause your adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to food cravings, especially the desire to eat sugary, fatty, and salty foods. 

The reason your body releases cortisol as the result of stress is that stress can trigger the body to prepare for a harmful situation. In essence, your body responds to increased stress in the same way it would if you were under some kind of threat. It is a natural reaction. 

How can you manage stress eating?

Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help manage stress eating. Ways you can manage stress eating include:

Pay attention to yourself

One of the best ways to handle stress eating is to find out what is happening in the first place. Some of the main triggers for stress eating include being mentally and emotionally stressed or simply being bored. 

Taking time for yourself to examine what is going in and why you are responding to stressors can often interrupt the desire to eat in response to stress. A simple inventory of what exactly is weighing on you can give you the clarity necessary to manage stressful situations. 

Before you eat, take a minute to think and reflect on why you are stressed. What is making you anxious? Or even what you might be ignoring that is producing feelings of stress. 

Remove temptation

It is great to have cookies and candy sitting around in decorative containers, but if you are prone to stress eating this can be a danger. Easy access to sweets and other snacks can be a problem for stress eaters. Even scientific research has shown that easy access to junky snacks is often the main trigger for consuming them. 

For many people, stress eating is simply a matter of ease and convenience. We feel stressed, there are sweets, salty or fatty snacks around the house, and we eat them. By removing the junk snacks from your home, you may be able to cut down or even eliminate stress eating. 

There is nothing wrong with having snacks in the house. Indulging in the occasional cookies or even potato chips is not unhealthy. Many people find that simply putting things away in the pantry is enough to get them out of sight and out of mind, and thereby reduce the temptation to stress eat. 

Pay attention to healthy meal schedules. 

Sticking to meal schedules is important for your overall health and to avoid letting yourself get too hungry. Many of us work from home now, and it can be easy to let regular meal breaks slide. Even if you are home, make sure you take scheduled lunch breaks that include a healthy and filling meal. 

Skipping meals and going too long between meals causes us to become far too hungry. This makes it easy to start eating salty and fatty foods because they provide immediate satisfaction. Letting yourself get too hungry is also a stress trigger. The combination of hunger and stress will inevitably lead you to stress eat and overeat the wrong kinds of foods. 

Stick to regular and planned meal schedules, and make sure your meals are healthy and satisfying. 

Do not over-restrict

A solid rule to follow toward good nutrition and preventing overeating is not deprive yourself of food. When our diet becomes too restrictive, when we take in too few calories, our bodies will respond with intense food cravings. This aspect of our diets can be compounded during times of high stress. 

Research has shown that highly restrictive diets are not effective for long-term weight loss, and they can lead to weight gain because of the food cravings that inevitably result. Depriving your body of sufficient calories is also a major source of stress, and this also leads to stress eating. 

Make cooking one of your hobbies.

One way to make sure you are eating good nutritious food is to make it yourself. This does not need to be an onerous chore. By learning to see cooking as something of a hobby or a passion, preparing nutritious meals can become part of your life. 

Studies show that making food at home tends to involve a high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Simply making your own food, will likely include healthier ingredients. 

Research has also shown that making home-cooked meals at least five times a week leads to a decrease in weight gain and can lead to actual weight loss. It appears that cooking your own with fresh healthy ingredients works as a weight loss plan. 

Stay hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is a solid rule for good health in general. Staying hydrated can also help you manage stress eating. Proper hydration generally helps reduce hunger, and it helps you manage stress more effectively. 

Research has shown that chronic dehydration is linked to obesity. What is more, dehydration can lead to changes in mood, attention, and energy levels—all things that can lead to stress eating. Make sure you have water with you throughout the day. You can always flavor the water with fresh fruit. This will also give you an added boost of vitamin C. Drinking plenty of water will also steer you away from sugary drinks. 

Stay active

Remaining active has become more of a challenge in recent years. With the restrictions that have come with the pandemic, and with many of us working from home, simply moving around can become a challenge. 

Even if you are working from home, make sure you take breaks to stay active. Simply moving around the home or taking a short walk can boost your mood and reduce stress. There are also plenty of home workouts available for free on things like YouTube, and most of these workouts do not require equipment.  

Avoid boredom

Few things will allow us to begin ruminating on stressful thoughts and ideas than boredom. And boredom can set in quickly once we have worked our way through the list of things to do. 

Take on side projects, develop hobbies, or begin to address projects that you have put aside. These are all healthy and constructive ways to avoid boredom. Even things like organizing your living space can help alleviate or prevent boredom. 

Be present

Our contemporary world is full of distractions. While the television or your smartphone is easy ways to divert yourself or eat up time, they are really just distractions. They provide nothing meaningful, and they often leave us feeling empty. Simply distracting yourself can lead to overeating and stress eating. 

Make sure you have regularly scheduled times to turn off or silence the smartphone and the television. When taking meals, focus on what you are eating. Pay attention to how you feel instead of distracting yourself with your smartphone. 

Being present in your own life can help prevent overeating and stress eating. 

How does stress affect your appetite?

There is a scientific link between experiencing stress and the craving for sugary, fatty, and salty foods. It is not all in our heads, as it were. And stress is a serious problem for a great many people. 

In the short term, stress often shuts down the desire to eat. The nervous system sends messages to the adrenal system to release epinephrine, a hormone associated with the "fight or flight" response. But over time, the opposite issue can come about. The adrenal system will begin to produce an excess of cortisol which will make us crave foods that provide the instant gratification we get from sugar, fat, and salt. This is the physiological mechanism behind stress eating. 

Some people have simply learned to cope with difficult situations and feelings with behaviors that make them feel secure in the moment. Eating is one of those behaviors. The simple process of eating can create feelings of safety and security when life itself feels out of control. 

We are all prone to these responses at some level. The physiological factors behind stress eating will impact everyone. The behavioral dimensions of stress eating have more to do with our individual experiences.   

Stress Eating Tips

Some simple tips to help with stress eating include:

  • Give yourself time to reflect on how you feel
  • Plan and make regular healthy meals
  • Remove junk snacks from the w
  • Stay hydrated
  • Cook at home
  • Be present in your life, and avoid unhealthy distractions
  • Stress Eating Cons
  • The cons, or dangers, of stress ea, ting can be serious. Some of the dangers of stress eating include:
  • Weight gain, including obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue

Unhealthy attempts to control rather than manage stress eating can contribute to the risk of developing eating disorders. If you are having difficulties managing stress and stress eating, see a healthcare professional to explore ways to manage stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Stress Eating Facts

Stress eating is sometimes referred to as emotional eating. For many people, eating more food, or eating an excessive amount of a specific type of food, can function as a way of coping with stress, anxiety, or depression. The crucial feature of stress eating is that it is not motivated by hunger. Stress eating means you are eating even when you are not hungry. 

Stress eating is not just psychological. Stress eating can be the result of a physiological response to stress, anxiety, and depression. It is part of the natural “fight or flight” response. 

You can manage stress eating by taking some simple steps. These include removing unhealthy snacks from view, planning and cooking healthy meals, and finding constructive ways to occupy your time like taking up a hobby and avoiding unhealthy distractions. 

Stress eating can lead to serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

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