Have you had a bad day and feel like having some chocolate cake? Are you not feeling great and want to snack on some crisps? Or, maybe you feel stressed and don’t want to eat at all? Does any of this sound familiar? Well, not to worry - these are common situations for many people when feeling mentally, physically or emotionally stressed . Unfortunately, stress affects each one of us on a daily basis. Everybody has their own way of coping with stress and unfortunately one of the most common ways to deal with it is by making unhealthy food choices. This could be either, under-eating or overeating, also known as bingeing. One of the most common causes
One of the most common causes for overeating in a stressful situation is prior ‘restrained eating’. Restrained eating is abstaining from certain food, food groups, and specific ingredients or eating in a specific pattern in order to maintain or lose weight. If an individual intentionally restricts their food intake to maintain or lose weight, they often tend to overeat during stressful periods to overcome this emotional overeating which can be defined as eating large amounts of food (specifically increased intakes of energy and fat) in response to negative outcomes is often also a way of coping with negative emotions.
But what causes this?
In most cases, stress can temporarily suppress appetite. This is caused by the corticotropin-releasing hormone which is produced by the hypothalamus in the brain. The brain further initiates the release of the hormone epinephrine, which sets the body to its “fight-or-flight response” and as a result suppresses the appetite of an individual temporarily. This may lead to some people undereating during stressful events.Persistent and chronic
Persistent and chronic stress, however, is a different story! This time another hormone called cortisol is released, and cortisol increases appetite and the desire to eat! Weird how the body works right? Once the stressful episode is over, cortisol levels automatically drop, however, if the stress persists so does the cortisol level, and therefore leads to overeating!
What foods are commonly consumed when stressed?
Several studies have shown that stress also seems to affect food preferences. The most common foods that people tend to eat during stressful periods are those that are classified as unhealthy, specifically high in fat and sugar content, i.e. chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, crisps, cookies, bread etc. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible for this preference. And of course, increased consumption of foods rich in fat and sugar could result in weight gain and lead to obesity in the future!
Although it is natural to rely on comfort food during stressful episodes, there are many ways to overcome such behaviour.
How to overcome?
Numerous studies have shown that meditation, yoga, exercise and most certainly social support are the main ways of overcoming stress and coping with it naturally.
I hope this helps to shed more light on a very common but generally ignored issue called ‘stress and eating’.
Take care and eat healthily,