Wouldn’t it be easier if we craved a large veggie-filled salad when we’re stressed? Unfortunately, it seems to be the opposite — we tend to look for comfort in food when we’re stressed out or anxious. Not only do our choices seem to change when we’re stressed, but our body actually processes food differently when we’re under stress.
This is called the fight or flight mode. Your hormones are naturally programmed to release chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol when you feel stressed. Elevated amounts of these hormones regularly give us feelings of hunger, putting us on an endless cycle of reaching for comfort foods and eating more than we need.
Another side effect is a slower metabolism. Those stress hormones being released regularly slows down the metabolism. Because stress messes with our brain’s wiring for rewards and our cortisol levels trick us into wanting more fat and sugar, we automatically head toward those comfort foods during times of stress.
Stress is the #1 reason clients give me for emotional eating! And I can totally relate. Stress can come in many forms and it usually isn’t an actual threat to our well being, just a lack of control over our emotions. Food can be a distraction from what needs to get done, which doesn’t actually take the stress away, it just puts it off for the time being. Some of my favorite comfort foods are chocolate, cookies, and cheese. What are yours?
And finally, one of the most significant factors for making poor eating choices when you’re stressed out is lack of sleep. Lack of sleep affects the chemicals that control your appetite, which can begin another seemingly endless cycle of the hamster wheel. Make sleep a priority. Aim for 7-8 hours a night, even if you have to rearrange the schedule you’re accustomed to.
But now that you know where your stress is taking you, you can do something about it. First of all — name your stressors. What are the top things that cause you to stress? My top stressors are trying to do too much at a time or in one day, not having down time for myself, when my kids are uncooperative, and when my day doesn’t go as planned.
It’s important to fit exercise into your schedule, even if all you have time for is a brisk 10-minute walk. When you do sit down for a meal, practice mindfulness instead of zoning out in front of your phone or the television. Stress is something that we can’t eradicate completely, but we cause a lot of the stress we undergo. For example, we feel stressed because we’re unorganized, unprepared, and our home is in disarray. These are all very common reasons for being under stress, and they’re so fixable! Make a plan to tackle the things that are causing you stress, and start chipping away at them.
You’ll be amazed at how much your digestion improves, your sleep quality improves, and you’ll feel lighter.
If you feel like you can use some support in combating stress related eating, please contact me for a free strategy session. I’d love to help!