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How to Stop Stress Eating

February 27, 2019 TJ DeSalvo

Stress eating may seem comforting but it isn't great in the long run. Learn strategies to control stress eating at HealthyPlace.

I have a problem with stress eating. To be fair, during periods of high anxiety, my body seems to modulate between wanting to eat nothing and wanting to eat everything, but more often than not it seems to be the latter. Both are problematic, but obviously, stress eating leaves you more prone to weight gain and escalating grocery bills, so it’s worth getting under control.

The Causes of Stress Eating

Why do people stress eat? When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Eating food that we love is among the most comforting things we can do, and stress eating is primarily a strategy to quiet or suppress negative thoughts and emotions. Eating is also an easy way to distract us from the greater problems in our lives.1

There’s also strong evidence suggesting a biological cause for stress eating. I’m the type person that’s almost always stressed. For people like me, where stress is a constant, the body is prone to release elevated levels of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol has been linked to significant spikes in appetite. The presence of cortisol creates a dangerous feedback loop – high fat and sugar foods make you feel less stressed (regardless of how legitimate that feeling is) which will make you want to eat more of them, and the cortisol in your body gives you the impetus to do that. That’s being the case, it is in our best interest to get our stress eating under control.2

How We Can Control Stress Eating

I’ll be blunt: if you want to stop stress eating, it isn’t going to be easy. At least with me, eating is so linked to comfort that severing that tie seems a near Herculean effort, but we need to try.

The first thing to tell yourself is the most basic: though your mind may crave food, you don’t need it. Stress eating isn’t being driven by some physiological necessity – you aren’t going to starve if you don’t eat. Realize that what you’re really craving isn’t the food itself, but the positive emotions that food is associated with. If you can keep that centered in your mind, and find things to substitute for your food, then you can start to get it under control.

A few weeks ago, I touched upon the importance of finding little things we can do to help reduce anxiety. If you haven’t read that yet, I suggest starting there. If you want other advice, here are some things that may work:

  • A good way to wean yourself off eating unhealthy things is to substitute them with healthier things. Try having fresh fruit or unbuttered, unsalted popcorn on hand for just those specific times when you feel stressed. As you work to control your stress eating in general, you can at least feel comfort in knowing that what you’re eating is healthy.
  • If you feel that craving, reach out to a friend or family member. Having a strong support network is perhaps the most effective way to control your anxiety and any negative effects associated with it. Please don’t be afraid to reach out.

Again, this is not going to be easy. But hopefully, this will give you enough to at least get you started.

Sources

  1. Mayo Clinic Staff, "Weight loss: Gain control of emotional eating". Mayo Clinic. November 14, 2018.
  2. Harvard Health Publishing, "Why stress causes people to overeat." Updated July 18, 2018.

APA Reference
DeSalvo, T. (2019, February 27). How to Stop Stress Eating, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2019/2/how-to-stop-stress-eating



Author: TJ DeSalvo

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