When you’re under stress, it can drive you toward a lot of different behaviors. One of the behaviors that it can create is the desire to eat in ways that aren’t as healthy as they should be.
And stress eating can become a habit. When you feel stressed, you want to eat, and then when you eat, you feel guilty and more stressed when you eat things that aren’t good for your body.
How Stress Triggers Eating
You may be familiar with how emotional stress can make you feel. It can cause anxiety, mood swings, insomnia, and long term, it can lead to depression. When you’re stressed, there are chemical changes that take place inside your body.
Stress causes your body to release hormones that make you crave the comfort of your favorite foods. These foods are often loaded with little in the way of nutrition but are packed with calories.
When people are under stress, it tends to make them eat more in the way of serving sizes than they would normally eat. When your life isn’t under stress, your body works better to help through the use of hormones to control your appetite.
These hormones work together to make sure your desire to eat is at a healthy level. You won’t have the craving to overeat. You’ll experience times when you don’t even feel hungry.
But that all changes when stress enters the picture and it’s not your fault. There’s a scientific reason that stress triggers your desire to eat. When you’re under stress, whether it’s short term or chronic, the body works to produce cortisol.
Just like other hormones work to keep your appetite at a healthy level, cortisol does the opposite. It prods the brain in reaction to stress to give you a signal that you need to eat in order to get some energy.
This is an automatic reaction within the body. As a result of the cortisol, it makes you hungry. It can make you crave food as the cortisol levels rise. You’ll end up overeating because of this elevated hormone.
When you’re not under stress, you won’t have as much of the hormone present in your body. But if the stress is chronic, the cortisol levels remain at the point where you feel the need to eat more than you should and more often than you should.
What most people do when the stress hits are they reach for the foods that are packed with sugar and high in calories. This is partly due to convenience’s sake. These foods are usually already stocked in the pantry and we’re more apt to eat whatever is on hand when we have a desire to feed the stress.
The problem is that once you eat foods that are high in fat and sugar, you experience a boomerang result. The more foods that are packed with sugar and fat that you feed your body, the more that it wants.
You can become addicted to these foods as a way of relieving stress. Even though that relief is short-lived, because you feel better after eating it, the temptation to do the same thing again will be stronger.
Foods that are high in sugar can create a feel-good sensation in the brain. It’s because of this fact that it will be easier to eat the same unhealthy foods whenever stress increases.
The problem though with using food to try to get relief from the stress is that it always backfires. You might feel better every time you give in to stress eating, but the consequences are always there.
When you stress eat with foods that aren’t healthy, you create a reward pathway that wires your brain to make eating the foods the first resort instead of trying to work toward a better solution.
The only way that you’ll find relief from this behavior is to replace the foods that aren’t as healthy with ones that are. Stress eaters will always go for the foods that are convenient. If you have healthier options on hand, then you can break the habit of stress eating foods that aren’t good for you.
What Stress Eating Does to Your Body
If you look up funny sayings about stress, you’ll find a lot of material. You’ll find shirts, pillows, and décor that joke about stress. While those might be intended as humorous, it’s not funny at all what stress eating can do to your body.
When you eat due to stress, you usually end up eating far more calories than your body is able to use for what it needs to run efficiently. As a result of this, weight gain usually happens.
If the over-eating continues for too long, you can end up gaining enough weight to push your BMI into an unhealthy level. Obesity is a well-known side effect of overeating due to stress.
When you carry this extra weight, your muscles have to work harder and you’ll start to notice that your joints feel this extra weight. You can cause damage to your joints from overeating.
Stress eating can take a toll on you emotionally. Even though it might calm the stress temporarily, you’ll feel guilty about it and can experience negative self-talk. Many people start to have struggles with their self-esteem due to stress eating.
When you stress eat, you learn to use the food at an emotional crutch and the desire to eat until you feel better even if you’re full is often present. Stress eating can lead to problems with your vitamin and mineral levels.
Because there’s a tendency to fill up on foods that are convenient but have little nutritional value rather than healthy ones, your body can become a deficit in the important vitamins and minerals it needs to function well.
Consuming a diet that’s high in fat and sugar can cause you to develop health problems. You can struggle with high blood pressure and run a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
You can increase the risk of becoming insulin resistant which in turn damages your internal organs, causing things like a fatty liver. Also, you raise your risk of becoming a diabetic when you stress eat.
Your cholesterol level will also go up which can lead to potential heart disease. While there’s no doubt that it’s your body’s own hormone release that pushes you to want to eat when you’re stressed, you can’t change that.
But what you can change in response to stress is what you eat. You don’t have to eat foods that will lead to weight gain and health problems. Instead, you can use stress eating to actually eat healthier if you have a way to replace the foods that aren’t good for you.