How to stop stress eating: don’t eat feelings
Stress eating, or emotional eating, is linked to eating to cope with emotions such as stress. Some people experience relief from the sweet scoop of ice cream or the tasty crunch of french fries as food for them is not just fuel but a way to relax. Many of us have moments when we feel anxious, stressed, nervous, sad, bored, or even depressed, and turning to extra snacks and heavier meals makes us feel better. However, it provides a momentary sense of relaxation and then causes distress to the person experiencing it. When you notice that emotional eating during emotional distress becomes a regular occurrence, it is necessary to work with a professional who may guide you through how to stop stress eating.
Emotional eating is linked to a trigger that drives a person to consume junk food as a sense of comfort even when they are not hungry. Eating when you experience stressful situations may feel good in a moment, and because of the unnecessary calories you have consumed, you may feel even worse. Let’s delve into this topic in order to come up with strategies on how to stop stress eating.
Understanding Stress Eating: Why We Turn to Food
Stress eating is linked to emotional cues rather than actual hunger. When a person experiences stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which increases appetite and drives the person to eat more. Once the stressful situation is over, the cortisol levels should decrease, but if stress doesn’t go away, the hormone stays elevated.
When stressed, our brain’s reward center requires pleasure. As a result, we turn to food that may make us feel good. High-fat and sugar foods may temporarily improve mood. Associating foods with feeling better creates a habit that drives us to reach food at the moment of stress. Once you notice uncontrolled eating while experiencing stress, consult a healthcare provider for instructions on how to stop stress eating.
The Effects of Sugary and Junk Food on the Body
While consuming sugary and junk food may provide momentary relief, it can have adverse effects on our physical health:
- Blood Sugar Spikes and Crashes: Sugary foods have a negative effect on blood sugar levels. Such food causes a rapid increase in sugar levels, which may result in irritability, fatigue, and increased cravings.
- Weight Gain: Eating too much high-calorie, low-nutrient foods on a regular basis may lead to weight gain. Because of it, a person may experience more stress and problems with health.
- Emotional Rollercoaster: The temporary mood boost from sugary foods is often followed by a crash, leading to emotional highs and lows.
- Long-term Health Risks: Consistently relying on unhealthy foods to cope with stress can increase the risk of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Psychological reasons for overeating
Emotional eating is a complex behavior that often goes beyond the simple act of nourishment. While physical factors like hunger and metabolism play a role, there are significant psychological reasons for overeating that can’t be ignored. Understanding the psychological reasons behind overeating is crucial for developing a healthier relationship with food and finding effective strategies on how to stop stress eating. Psychological reasons for emotional eating include:
Emotional Eating: Seeking Comfort in Food
One of the most common psychological reasons for overeating is using food to cope with emotions. Stress, sadness, boredom, and anxiety can trigger a desire to eat, even when physical hunger isn’t present. Emotional eating temporarily relieves uncomfortable feelings, as food can release feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. However, this pattern can lead to a cycle where negative emotions trigger overeating, which can then lead to feelings of guilt or shame.
Reward System and Cravings: Seeking Pleasure in Food
Food can trigger a sense of reward in our brain, much like other pleasurable activities. This is why certain foods, mainly those high in sugar, salt, and fat, are often craved. The brain’s reward center releases dopamine when we eat these foods, reinforcing the behavior. This pleasure-seeking aspect of stress eating can lead to a cycle of cravings and indulgence, making it challenging to regulate food intake.
Mindless Eating: Disconnect from Hunger Cues
Mindless eating occurs when individuals consume food without being fully aware of what or how much they eat. This often happens in front of screens, during multitasking, or in social situations. Eating mindlessly can lead to overconsumption because we must pay attention to our body’s natural hunger and fullness cues. Without conscious awareness, it’s easy to overeat beyond what our body actually needs.
During stress, the body releases cortisol, increasing appetite and cravings for high-calorie and high-sugar foods. This physiological response is part of our survival mechanism, which signals the body to replenish energy stores. However, in modern-day stressors, such as work pressure or relationship problems, the excess calories consumed may not be necessary for physical exertion.
Eating can distract from stressors and shift the focus away from negative emotions. When individuals engage in stress eating, their attention is diverted to eating, providing a brief respite from the stress they are experiencing. The act of chewing and tasting can create a sensory experience that temporarily reduces feelings of anxiety or tension.
While stress eating may provide temporary relief, it can lead to a cycle of unhealthy eating habits and weight gain. To address stress eating effectively, it is essential to understand the underlying reasons behind this behavior. We have several tips on how to stop stress eating.
Tips on how to stop stress eating / how to control stress eating
If you find yourself caught in the cycle of stress eating and wonder how to stop stress eating, here are some strategies to help you regain control and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider, he/she will guide you and provide effective ways on how to stop stress eating.
Recognize the Triggers
For people who wonder how to stop stress eating, it is necessary to identify the triggers that lead you to reach for food. Keep a journal to track your emotions, thoughts, and situations when you tend to engage in stress eating. This will help you gain insight into your patterns and identify specific triggers. Common triggers include work deadlines, relationship problems, boredom, or loneliness.
Find Alternative Coping Mechanisms
Once you are aware of your triggers, it’s essential to find healthier ways how to stop stress eating and cope with stress. Explore alternative activities that can help distract and calm your mind, such as practicing deep breathing exercises, walking, meditating, engaging in hobbies, or talking to a supportive friend or family member. Finding alternative coping mechanisms on how to stop stress eating can help redirect your focus away from food and towards healthier outlets for stress relief.
Create a Supportive Environment
Surround yourself with a supportive environment that encourages healthy eating habits. Stock your pantry and refrigerator with nutritious, satisfying foods readily available when you need a snack. Remove or limit the presence of trigger foods that tend to lead to stress eating. Additionally, seek support from friends, family, or even professional counselors who can guide and encourage you during challenging times.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating involves paying attention to the present moment and being fully aware of your eating habits. Slow down and savor each bite, appreciating your food’s taste, texture, and aroma. Engage your senses and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. By practicing mindful eating, you can become more attuned to your body’s needs and better regulate your food intake.
Manage Stress through Healthy Lifestyle Habits
Incorporate stress-reducing activities into your daily routine. Regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can help alleviate stress and reduce the urge to turn to food for comfort. Engaging in physical activity helps distract from stress and releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters.
Seek Professional Help if Needed
If stress eating becomes a persistent and challenging issue, seeking professional help from a therapist, counselor, or registered dietitian can provide valuable support. They can help you explore underlying emotional triggers, develop personalized coping strategies on how to stop stress eating and provide guidance on establishing a healthy relationship with food. Together, you will develop strategies on how to eliminate stress eating that suits you.
Keep nutritious snacks on hand for when stress hits. Opt for whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, or Greek yogurt to satisfy cravings. Healthy meals and snacks prepared in advance are the most effective ways how to stop stress eating.
Word from Sonohealth
Remember, breaking the cycle of stress eating takes time and effort. Be patient and kind to yourself as you work towards healthier coping mechanisms on how to stop stress eating. By implementing these strategies and seeking support, you can develop a more positive and balanced approach to managing stress and nourishing your body.
FAQs on how to stop stress eating
1. What is stress eating?
Stress eating, known as emotional eating, is defined as a situation when people turn to food to cope with stressful or emotional situations. It’s a normal body response. However, when you overeat because of stress on a regular basis, it is necessary to find the triggers and ways to cope with them.
2. How to avoid stress eating?
To manage stress eating, you need to control yourself. Identify triggers that make you eat during stress. Once you recognize them, you may find ways to avoid such situations. Consider healthy eating. Choose lower-calorie and lower-fat options to eat during stress. Watch portion size. Instead of eating big portions, eat healthy food in small amounts but several times per day.
3. How to control emotional eating?
Managing emotional eating requires a change of lifestyle habits. Walking in fresh air, running, exercising, and getting enough sleep may help to avoid stress eating. Sport and regular exercise do wonders for mood and energy levels. It is also a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider or dietitian. You can discuss changes in your diet and ways on how to stop stress eating.