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Nutrition & Beauty

Stress and Eating Habits

We’ve all been there, you’re having a bad day and start craving chocolate, cake and crisps. Or it’s the complete opposite and you feel stressed and don’t want to eat at all. I’m sure this sounds familiar to you. Learn more on how stress and eating habits are connected and how you can overcome the need to overeat or under-eat.

Unfortunately, majority of people experience feeling mentally, physically or emotionally stressed daily. Everyone has their own way of coping with stress and one of the most common things people turn to is bingeing on unhealthy food or under-eating.

A common cause for overeating is restrained eating.

This is when you abstain from eating certain foods, food groups or you eat in a specific pattern to maintain or lose weight. If you intentionally restrict your food intake to maintain or lose weight, this can lead to a situation where there is a negative outcome that creates negative emotions, and this can lead to you coping by overeating.

Scientific cause:

In many cases, stress can temporarily suppress your appetite. This is due to the corticotropin-releasing hormone, which is produced by the hypothalamus in the brain. The brain further initiates the release of the hormone epinephrine which triggers the body’s “fight or flight response”. As a result, it temporarily suppresses the appetite. This can lead people to under-eat during stressful events.

It’s a different story when you overeat thanks to persistent and chronic stress! A different hormone called cortisol is released and it increases the appetite and desire to eat. Once the stressful episode is over, your cortisol levels automatically drop. If your stress level remains high, so does the cortisol level so we carry on overeating.

What common stress foods do we consume?

Several studies show that stress affects our food preferences. Common stress foods that people tend to eat are chocolate, ice cream, biscuits, crisps, cookies, bread etc. These are unhealthy and very high in fat and sugar content. High cortisol levels combined with high insulin levels can be responsible for this unhealthy food preference. And of course, an increased consumption of foods rich in fat and sugar can result in weight gain leading to obesity. It may feel natural to rely on comfort foods during stressful moments but there are ways to overcome this behaviour.

How to overcome?

Numerous studies show that natural ways to cope with and overcome stress are to turn to meditation, yoga, exercise and social support amongst your friends.

The human body is complex, but I hope I have helped to shed more light on the very common but ignored issue of stress eating. Take care and eat healthy.

Dr. Vidhi Patel