Stress seems to have become an inseparable part of most of our lives. And while we all may have different responses to stress, it unleashes some hormones that could mess with our appetite and eating patterns. When we eat to suppress our stress, that is, use food as a coping mechanism, it is referred to as stress eating. You aren’t really eating out of hunger but using food as a buffer to mask how the stress makes you feel!
Why do we eat when we are stressed?
When we are stressed over a period of time, the adrenal glands release a hormone called Cortisol, which increases appetite and may lead to overeating. According to research, stress also affects food preferences and leads to an increased intake of foods high in sugar and fat. That is because, sugar activates the reward system in the brain causing the release of Dopamine – a “feel good” hormone which is associated with feelings of pleasure and happiness.
How to control stress eating?
Once you are aware that you do eat out of stress, then it becomes easier to control that behaviour.
Here are a few ideas that could help you walk away from stress eating:
1. Evaluate how you are feeling:
If you find that you are eating too frequently or are over-eating, then it is probably because you are stressed. So the next time that you reach out for that cookie, pause and check in with yourself – are you really hungry or just eating to distract yourself from the stress?
2. Stay hydrated:
While we know that maintaining proper hydration is important for overall health, it also helps prevent overeating. Being dehydrated can lead to a dip in energy levels, mood swings and fatigue, all of which can make you feel physically stressed and you may then end up bingeing unnecessarily.
Some ways to maintain your hydration levels include avoiding caffeine too frequently, eating water-based fruits, adding some lemon to your water.
3. Move, move, move:
While a regular exercise routine is one of the key factors in maintaining overall physical and mental health, being active in general has tremendous health benefits, too. Being active improves our circulation, digestion, blood supply to vital organs and makes us feel overall more energetic and upbeat. Just walking around the block, getting out for a breather when we feel stressed, could help release pent up emotions and help prevent one from indulging in food for seeking comfort.
4. Nourish, don’t punish:
Eating wholesome meals which are full of nutrients, especially B-complex vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids, and protein helps the brain release calming/happy hormones like Serotonin and Dopamine. If we maintain a steady supply of nutrients to our body, it is easier to deal with stressful situations.
Excessively restricting foods and food groups could have a negative impact on your mental health, stressing your body out which may lead to over-indulging in junk foods. Use food to nourish rather than punish yourself.
5. Be present:
Modern day life is full of distractions. Our smartphones and constant updates on social media may take a toll on our mental health. Keep some time off each day, where you spend time with yourself doing things you love without any distractions. Being mindful helps bring our mind back to the present moment and helps alleviate stress.
We have all been guilty of a little stress eating, especially in 2020. While the year is coming to an end, we can always embrace a new year with better, healthier habits. Our experts have worked round the clock to create authentic content for you. You can read the articles on proper nutrition and lifestyle habits, right here.