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Stress Eating: Top 6 Signs, Causes, And How To Manage It

Aishwarya Aneesh

by Aishwarya Aneesh

Table of content

Do you typically loot your refrigerator or kitchen cabinets when you feel a little uncomfortable in life? It’s natural to deal with challenges, but it’s uncommon to turn to food for comfort. While stress and anxiety wreak havoc on your life, pastries, cakes, chips, and fried snacks seem to be the only bright spot. If you’ve eaten a whole pizza before an interview, a tub of ice cream since your boyfriend went to sleep without sending you a good night text, or a bowl of steaming pasta after a stressful day, you might need some help. This problem is termed emotional eating or stress eating.

When you eat emotionally, it’s possible that you won’t pay attention to your body’s typical hunger and fullness cues and end up eating for reasons. This serves solely to ignore the problem and is frequently a distraction or temporary fix that can give us the false impression that we are alright after eating.

Food serves as natural fuel to us, but when stress eating during challenging circumstances happens often, it may negatively impact health and overall well-being. With this article, you learn how to stop emotional eating, battle cravings, recognize your triggers, and feed your feelings.

What Is Stress Eating

Stress Eating

Moreover, it has nothing to do with actual hunger but to suppress or conceal unpleasant emotions and situations.

Not all of the time do we eat to satisfy our physical hunger. Many also use food for comfort, stress relief, or self-care. And when we do, we frequently turn to sugary snacks, fast food, and other soothing but harmful foods. 

Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t address emotional issues. It typically makes you feel worse. Afterward, the initial emotional problem persists, and you also feel bad for overeating.

Hormones, Hunger, And Stress Eating

Our food preferences are impacted by stress. The practice of eating in response to stress is known as stress eating. Our bodies release a stress hormone called Cortisol when we experience stress which plays several functions, like regulating metabolism and blood sugar levels. 

Short-term stress response stimulation is acceptable and can even reduce your appetite. However, long-term stress (such as that brought on by work pressure, recurrent arguments with partners or friends, or money problems) can result in persistently high cortisol levels, which in turn raise blood sugar and hunger. 

Stress

This can then cause you to seek fatty, sugary, or even oily foods with high calorie content. After consumption, foods high in fat and sugar appear to reduce stress-related reactions and feelings. Since they seem to reduce stress, these foods are true “comfort” foods, which may help explain why people crave them when under stress.

Hunger Hormone

Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone.” Its level is increased along with appetite and cravings, primarily for carbs. Ghrelin is probably at blame when you start to think about food or catch yourself grabbing something you know you don’t need.

Ghrelin can increase fat mass in addition to increasing food intake. Other reward behaviors like smoking and using other substances are also linked to how ghrelin affects desires. Smoking, eating poorly, living a sedentary lifestyle, and engaging in other inflammatory activities can unnecessarily raise ghrelin levels.

Do you know that women are more likely to turn to food as a coping mechanism for stress, while males are more likely to turn to drink or smoking? Moreover, stress from problems at work and other sources is associated with weight growth, but only in people who are overweight. This is because insulin levels are higher in fat people, and high insulin levels increase the likelihood of stress-related weight gain.

Triggers Of Stress Eating

There are a few triggers that cause stress eating. Some of these are mentioned below.

Overeating

Boredom

A widespread emotional eating trigger is boredom or a lack of activities. We are today more absorbed than ever by the pressure to have fulfilling lives. All due to the efficient and effective social media feeds! Most of the time, people tend to feel bored and turn to eat to fill that vacuum. Many people lead exciting and active lives, and when they find themselves without any activities to engage in, they often turn to eating.

Anxiety

Another “important trigger” for emotional eating is anxiety. Individuals may unknowingly develop eating habits when they experience worry, anxiety, nervousness, or stress. Many people tend to eat more when feeling anxious, but some do the reverse. The body’s hormonal changes mainly bring about these effects.

They no longer pay attention to their hunger because their emotions are so strong and profound that they overpower or push aside that sensation and tend to overeat, resulting in weight gain. 

Dieting

Any food limitation is a diet. As you try to cut back on unhealthy things, you frequently limit how much you eat and exclude some of your favorite meals, which can contribute to emotional eating. People are more inclined to binge if they restrict themselves more. And the more they overeat, the more weight they might put on, intensifying the temptation to limit, thereby continuing the cycle.

Situational Stress

Stressful circumstances might also cause emotional eating. For instance, the COVID-19 epidemic disrupted habits and increased loneliness and boredom, which favored emotional eating. We tend to consume a lot of food out of boredom because it feels productive. It keeps us entertained and fills up our time. 

Social Influences

We may experience cravings as a result of excessive or insufficient social interaction. Most people give in to peer pressure when deciding what to eat. Peers profoundly impact what and how people eat—not because they are hungry or even because they have personal preferences—but because they want to be accepted by their peers. 

Stress eating could happen, for instance, if a friend suggests you buy pizza before a major sports game or if you regularly order drinks. Peers profoundly impact what and how people eat—not because they are hungry or even because they have personal preferences—but because they want to be accepted by their peers.

Fatigue

Sometimes, lacking the motivation to complete a task can lead someone to pass the time by eating instead. An individual chooses to eat mindlessly until their reward system develops and they find the task worthwhile.

Signs Of Stress Eating

Signs of stress eating

Here are six warning signs that eating stress may affect you or someone you love.

  • You have a sudden, strong want to eat something. Stress eating can be different from real hunger because it often happens suddenly. You suddenly get hungry, which prompts you to raid your kitchen pantry. You can feel eager to start eating if you experience a minor inconvenience.
  • Your cravings are limited to certain comfort foods. Each of us has a list of comfort foods. A person may frequently gravitate to meals that comfort them when seeking to acquire a sense of fullness and satisfaction through food.
  • You dine at an odd hour. If you find yourself entering the kitchen more frequently than necessary and at strange times, stress eating may be the cause. Another sign of emotional eating is placing food orders at unusual times.
  • You frequently consume more food than usual. Stress eating causes you to lose track of portion control. When faced with a personal challenge or you’ve been thinking about something, you can eat despite feeling full.
  • After eating, you experience guilt. When you eat after a normal hunger, you can experience joy and thankfulness. A person who struggles with stress eating could frequently feel guilty and unhappy after eating. This is unmistakably another indication of emotional eating.
  • Your weight has increased significantly recently. Stress eating impairs our ability to determine a food’s nutritional value. Overeating is unavoidable in the absence of portion management. These elements work together to cause the person to put on weight and lose shape. 

Difference Between Emotional Hunger And Physical Hunger

Finding the difference between emotional and physical hunger is essential in combating emotional eating. This may be more difficult than it appears, mainly if you frequently use food to cope with your emotions.

Because emotional hunger may be so intense, it’s simple to confuse it with actual desire. However, there are indicators you can look for to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger to avoid mindless eating.

Signs Of Stress Eating

Impact Of Stress Eating

  • It can lead to skin changes and weight gain. Stress levels may increase as a result of these factors.
  • Stress eating can develop digestive problems like constipation, and increased stomach acid can cause heartburn.
  • Further, it leads to long-term gut problems, including Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, negative changes to the gut microbiome.
  • In some people, stress eating can result in disordered eating patterns or even an eating disorder like bulimia. It can lead to overall deprivation of our immune system.
  • The body may develop a tolerance to food over time, which may cause individuals to consume more to maintain temporary satisfaction.
  • Numerous health issues related to weight might arise from repetitive emotional eating. A few consequences of stress eating include diabetes, hypertension, tiredness, and high blood pressure.
  • Stress eating can result in stomach pain, cramping, and other gastrointestinal issues.

Top 10 Foods to Reduce Stress 

  1. Herbal tea aids in promoting feelings of comfort and calmness
  1. Dark chocolates are a rich source of antioxidants.
  1. A mood-boosting source of carbohydrates is whole grains.
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids in avocados reduce stress.
  1. Fish can improve your heart health while combating stress.
  1. Sleeping well and managing stress can both be facilitated by warm milk.
  1. Nuts are an excellent snack for reducing stress and are high in healthy fat.
  1. Strawberries and citrus fruits both contain vitamin c, which reduces stress.
  1. Probiotics can help you manage stress by creating a healthy gut microbiota.
  1. Fiber-rich foods may lower stress and anxiety.

How To Manage Stress Eating

Coping skills are the methods you employ to control your stress. One coping mechanism we use is stress eating because it increases our feelings at the time.

Coping mechanisms can be positive or negative. When we rely on one coping mechanism excessively, that’s usually what turns us unhealthy. For instance, most individuals can occasionally enjoy a beer to relax, but if it becomes your go-to every time you’re stressed, it will cause problems. Similarly, stress eating can be harmful if you do it frequently. If you eat when stressed out all the time, it can affect you. 

Know What Stresses You

Are you conscious of the feelings that cause you to eat? First, recognize the triggers that cause you to turn to food to stop eating stress.

Starting with an internal check-in, do this. Before entering the kitchen, consider whether you are eating due to hunger or responding to something else.

Please identify what you’re responding to each time this occurs and write it down. This can be used to pinpoint the circumstances that trigger stress eating.

Conquer Temptation

Even though keeping a bowl of brightly colored sweets or a container of cookies on the counter may make your kitchen look more appealing, this habit may encourage overeating.

Being surrounded by delicious meals might cause frequent snacking and overeating, even when you’re not hungry. According to research, the striatum, a region of our brain that controls impulse control, is stimulated by visual exposure to high-calorie foods, which may cause desires to worsen and overeat.

For this reason, it’s better to store enticing foods out of sight, like in a pantry or cupboard, such as sweet baked goods, candy, chips, and cookies.

Keep Hydrated

Your overall health depends on maintaining sufficient hydration, which may help you avoid stress-related overeating. Dehydration can alter your mood, attention span, and energy level, which can affect your eating.

To prevent dehydration, flavor your water fruit slices or any herbal roots. This may encourage you to drink more water throughout the day without significantly increasing the amount of sugar or calories in your diet.

Control Your Portion Size

Snacks are usually consumed directly from the packaging they were sold in, which can lead to overeating. Or you might eat more than you wanted if you take a container of ice cream out of the freezer and consume it straight away rather than divide it into individual servings.

Practice portion control by only serving yourself one serving of food rather than consuming more significant portions to prevent this.

Exercise

Fitness improves your capacity to withstand the harmful effects of stress. Exercise alters brain chemistry, which prevents stress eating. If your circumstances make it difficult for you to get to the gym or even perform formal workouts at home, consider increasing the amount of walking, gardening, cleaning, or other milder exercise.

Practice Mindfulness

The mind and body can be calmed through mindfulness-based activities like yoga, tai chi, and meditation. You are more likely to choose a wiser and healthier way of living when you are focused, calm, and thoughtful. One way to practice mindfulness is by slowing down and focusing more on what and how your food is.

Intuitive Eating

It’s a technique created by dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in the 1990s to support mindful eating, which nutritionists still advocate today. Intuitive eating entails paying closer attention to the internal signals your body naturally sends to your brain when you’re hungry or full. These signals can help you choose what, when, and how much to eat.

Eating intuitively enables you to discover the difference between hunger fueled by stress and hunger caused by your body. 

Seek assistance

Discuss your feelings and negative responses to stress with close friends and family who can offer you the support you need to get through challenging situations. If you frequently feel guilty, ashamed, or regretful about your eating patterns, you might want to talk to a professional counselor.

Diet Vs Exercise For Weight Loss

Do you want to get back to shape as a result of stress eating? But confused on choosing a Diet Plan or Exercise for weight loss. Then you must watch this video.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is Stress Eating A Disorder?

Ans: Emotional eating, also known as stress eating, is using food to cope with difficult emotions and manage stressful situations. Stress eating is connected to the behaviors and symptoms of eating disorders, even though it is not an eating disorder in and of itself.

Q: Can You Stress Eat Without Realizing It?

Ans: If you always eat when you’re anxious, you can unknowingly go for food at the first hint of stress. You may feel more hungry if you receive messages or see visuals related to eating.

Q: Does Stress Eating Cause Weight Gain?

Ans: Yes! Stress eating can cause weight gain.

Q: How Does Stress Eating Impact Your Mental Health?

Ans: Inflammation caused by sugar and processed meals can affect the entire body, including the brain, and maybe a factor in mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. We frequently turn to processed meals when we need a fast pick-me-up from stress or depression.

Q: Can Stress Eating Make You Lose Weight?

Ans: While many people gain weight when stressed, some lose weight. When under stress, some people tend to decrease their appetite, which causes them to eat less overall.

Q: Which Foods Cause Cortisol To Rise?

Ans: Some foods which increase Cortisol leave a

  • Trans fats
  • Refined sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine Addiction
  • Refined grains
  • An excess of saturated animal fat
  • Foods Low in Fiber

Q: Does Mental Health Get Well With Emotional Eating?

Ans: Turning to your favorite food can temporarily soothe your stress and help with your mental health but this copy mechanism can do more harm than good to your physical health.

A Word From Fitelo

Food cannot satisfy emotional hunger. Stress eating leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms for your emotions, it gets harder and harder to manage your weight, and you start to feel helpless in the face of both food and your feelings, which worsens the issue.

No matter how helpless you feel in the face of your emotions and your relationship with food, you can still change for the better. You can discover better methods to manage your feelings, avoid triggers, overcome cravings, and finally stop.

Fun Fact

If you are a stress eater and looking for a diet plan for weight loss with the meal plan, I have got your back. Click the link, follow the meal plan and get back to shape.

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Your search to find the right guidance to be a part of all those fat-to-fit stories ends here. So, contact us today if you are looking for a diet plan with cheat meals. Also, we will discuss how we can help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Disclaimer

This blog post was written to help you to make healthy and better food choices altogether. So, be aware and take care. The important thing to consider is your own health before starting a diet that is restrictive. Always seek advice from a doctor/dietitian before starting if you have any concerns.

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