Why Do We Stress Eat and How to Stop

We all have those moments where we reach for food when we’re stressed, anxious or upset. Stress eating can become a habit that is hard to break and can lead to weight gain and unhealthy eating patterns. I’ve personally been dealing with a lot of big life changes that I’ve realized has caused a lot of extra stress. And I find I’ve often coped with it by overindulging instead of redirecting some of the stress and anxiety on healthier outlets. So I’ve been doing some research to learn more about stress eating – why we do it and how we can shift our mindset and combat this unhealthy habit. Let’s get into it.

Reasons we stress eat:

•Food acts as comfort – When we are stressed, sad or anxious, food can act as a source of comfort and distraction. It provides immediate pleasure that helps us cope in the moment. 

•Stress hormones – Cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones released when we’re anxious, can increase our appetite and cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods.

•Learned behavior – Many of us learned at a young age that food equals comfort, so it becomes an automatic response when we’re feeling overwhelmed or negative emotions.

How to combat stress eating:

•Identify triggers – Be aware of situations, emotions or times of day that trigger your stress eating. Knowing your triggers is the first step to changing your response.

•Plan healthier snacks – Keep nutritious, low-calorie snacks on hand like fruits, veggies, plain yogurt or nuts. This can curb cravings and provide nourishment instead of junk food.

•Drink water – Often when we think we’re hungry, our body is just dehydrated. Drink a glass of water and wait 20 minutes to see if you’re still hungry. I find that adding something to the water to make it more interesting is even more pleasing (citrus, cucumber, mint, etc.).

•Practice mindfulness or meditation – Take a few minutes to observe your feelings without judgment. Ask yourself if you’re truly physically hungry or if you just want comfort. It takes up to 20 minutes for the mind to recognize that you’re full, so try pausing and really reflecting to find out if your body really needs more food or if it’s just the stress talking.

•Find alternative coping strategies – Talk to a friend, go for a walk, meditate, write in a journal or take a hot shower or bath instead of reaching for food when stressed.

With awareness, planning and practice of healthier coping mechanisms, you can form a new habit that helps you relate to food in a balanced way, even when life gets stressful. With everything, changing habits takes time and some patience. I like to remind myself that I can give myself some grace because we are all dealing with a lot of stress and beating yourself up about falling back into habits you’re unhappy with isn’t going to make you change them. Being patient with yourself, reflecting, and redirecting your mindset is what’s going to make the difference in the long run.

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