How Stress Contributes to Overeating
Stress is responsible for a lot of health problems, to say the least.
It’s associated with increased risk for heart disease, stroke, as well as other issues like insomnia.
Given all the health issues associated with stress, it can be very easy to overlook one of the most damaging effects of stress, which is encouraging you to overeat.
Overeating leads to the many of the health issues described above, which makes it very dangerous.
But, why exactly does being stressed out lead to you suddenly; developing a desire to overeat?
It’s a good question and one with no clear answer. But we will explore the possible reasons here.
Stress Reduces Your Willpower
A successful diet relies, in large part, on tremendous willpower.
You have to be able to stop yourself from indulging when you like, you have to be able to stop yourself from fantasizing about eating a big piece of cake or eating seconds at dinner.
One of the major effects of stress is that it completely saps your willpower and energy.
Anyone who has ever had to deal with stress can tell you that it completely erases all your energy.
When you’re stressed out, the chances are good that the last thing on your mind is watching how much eat.
When you aren’t watching what you eat, it’s a lot easier to say to yourself “I’ll just have one more slice” or “I’ll just have one more plate.”
Overeating Makes You Feel Good
Stress makes you feel bad (and that’s understating it quite a bit).
When you’re seriously stressed out, most things that would typically bring a person joy or pleasure just seem not to.
Because of the negative feelings brought on by excessive stress, people begin to seek out ways to make themselves feel better.
In some people, this can result in destructive use of drugs and/or alcohol. In many others, it results in overeating.
Scientists have long known that eating excessive amounts of food gives you good feelings.
Your body also knows this, which is why you get an urge to overeat when you’re stressed out.
The overeating gives your body some much needed good feelings.
So, if you’re trying to avoid overeating, then you need to invest in some seriously good stress management techniques.
Stress will ruin your diet and you need to take steps to counteract it.
Is Stress Eating a Disorder?
Everyone is different, but most people experience stress on a daily basis–whether it’s mild or severe.
A number of things can cause stress, from school and work to personal and professional relationships.
And, time and time again, this stress has been directly liked to eating patterns.
“Stress eating” is not necessarily a disorder, but more often a habit.
While people can be diagnosed with an eating disorder where stress is the root cause, usually stress eating is something a person can break on their own by simply changing their habits and becoming more mindful about their eating.
Learning how to control their stress is also important.
If a person already has an eating disorder, then things in their environment can definitely lead to heightened stress levels and thus effect their behavior and mental patterns.
Social factors can also have a negative impact on their behavior.
Understanding stressful moments and finding ways to replace their poor eating habits with constructive habits is important to elicit their relaxation response.
When a person gets stressed, they tend to act pretty impulsively.
That’s why stress often takes on the form of bad eating habits or something else negative, like drinking or smoking.
However, by working to turn stress into something productive, people can overcome their stress eating.
Stress in itself causes a hormonal change in the body.
Initially, it leads to the release of adrenaline, which can actually stop a person from wanting to eat anything at all in the short-term.
However, once the stress continues for a little while, it will lead to the release of cortisol, which boosts the appetite and a person’s motivation to eat.
In this mindset, most people will eat impulsively based on what gives them comfort.
Generally, that means they are going to overeat and they are going to reach for junk food that is high in calories and sugar.
By learning coping mechanisms, individuals both with and without eating disorders can find ways to get to the root of the problem and overcome their stress all together, thus enabling them to nix their stress eating issue.
Those with an eating disorder will have to put much more work into overcoming it, however, and that usually requires professional intervention.
Do Hormones Cause Stress Eating?
Stress is often tied to overeating, and the reasoning is actually quite simple.
When our bodies are stressed or tired, the brain automatically sends a stronger signal to the brain that tells us to eat something.
Of course, that’s rarely the correct respond.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, often leads to weight gain in adults.
When stress is combined with comfort eating, that weight gain can be even more noticeable.
The hormonal balance of one’s body is very intricate, but to keep things simple, the short answer is that stress is most certainly connected to some (not all) cases of comfort eating.
What’s interesting is that, in the short-term, a bout of stress can actually shut-down your appetite.
When you first begin to experience stress, your body will have your nervous system send a message to the adrenal glands, which tells the kidneys to pump out adrenaline.
This adrenaline then triggers your “fight or flight” response, and this revved-up psychological state of survival that dates back to our ancient ancestors will temporarily put your desire to eat on hold.
That’s why food is usually the last thing someone wants when they have butterflies in their stomach before a performance or when they are anxiously awaiting some sort of big news.
However, if the stress continues, the body goes into overdrive in the other direction.
That’s when the cortisol is released, which instantly increases your appetite.
It can also increase your motivation in general, especially your motivation to eat.
When your stress ends, the cortisol levels will fall again, but it can happen that stress levels get stuck “on” in your body and your cortisol levels remain elevated.
That’s a situation where medical intervention would most certainly be required to address the issue and help you come up with a proper solution for your elevated cortisol levels, not short of appetite suppressants and anxiety medication.
So, is stress really big concern regarding your eating habits?
One Finnish study featuring more than 5,000 men and women linked obesity to stress-related eating in women, but not in men.
However, men are still at risk for the potential of stress eating even though it is much more prevalent in women.
Meditation, exercise, and social support can help you get to the root of the problem by enabling you to conquer your stress.
In turn, negative eating habits associated with that stress should come to a halt.
5 Stress Relief Techniques to Help Avoid Overeating
Stress is tightly linked to overeating.
While, in the short-term, stress can actually cause you to lose your appetite, prolonged stress will lead to the release of cortisol within your system that will greatly increase your appetite and lead to increased motivation…including an increased motivation to eat.
This hormone can completely throw your diet for a loop, and that’s why managing stress is often the best way to get to the root of your overeating problem.
Here are five techniques to help you do it.
1) Create A Schedule
Being able to manage your time better, plan ahead, and know what’s coming are all important to managing and reducing your stress.
Creating a schedule with a day planner and sticking to it, then reviewing it periodically, is the simple secret to feeling like you have control over your days again.
2) Learn To Say No
Do you have a lot on your plate?
Learning to say no to new projects is important to prevent overwhelm.
When you stretch yourself too thin for too long, you’re just going to end up letting people down at the last minute.
Instead of feeling pressured to take on things that you can’t handle, look at your schedule and decide if you can do it or not–and when.
3) Boost Your Productivity
When it comes time to work, you can lower your stress by using any number of productivity-boosting tactics.
The pomodoro method, for instance, uses a timer to help you break a long list of to-dos up into short 25 minute work increments.
Each bout is separated by a brief 5 minutes break, and then you get one longer break to enjoy after you’ve worked for a few sessions.
4) Practice Breathing
Until you’re able to take a sigh of relief and officially mark things as completed in your calendar, learning how to breathe can help you get through a whole host of situations without losing your cool.
Practice breathing methods to improve your mindfulness and keep you centered and focused in the moment when it matters.
5) Get Help
Are you overworked?
Burning the candle at both ends won’t get you very far for too long.
Instead of thinking that you are alone in dealing with your stress, think about the resources you have to lighten your load and get assistance, whether it’s asking for a deadline extension or asking for a friend to talk to.