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Why We Eat When We Are Stressed

Do you find yourself reaching for a box of crackers or ice cream when you are experiencing stress? If so, you are not alone. Many of us eat when we experience unpleasant emotions; it is a coping mechanism that makes us feel better. At the center of this mechanism is our body’s response to stress and the release of hormones like cortisol that help us respond appropriately to a stressful or dangerous situation. Unfortunately, while this mechanism is essential to our survival in emergencies, it doesn’t work particularly well when we are dealing with chronic stress. In fact, chronic stress can cause the body to overproduce cortisol which, as one of its many functions, tells us to eat fatty and sugar laden foods to build up our energy reserves.

While eating as a response to stress is a normal reaction, the long term effect to our weight and health is catastrophic. Once this awareness is front and center it means we are actually able to address it–and hopefully do something to change this habit pattern. When food becomes a way to soothe, it can be difficult to replace–but it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to do so.

To combat this habit pattern, you can use a two-pronged approach. First, try reducing your overall stress level so that you experience less pressure in the first place. This means learning how to take your body down from a heightened state. Meditation and deep breathing can both be helpful tools. Second, you will need to replace eating with another form of coping. Some people find that journaling is helpful, since it often provides some clues as to what events trigger these feelings in the first place. Others substitute behaviors for eating, such as phoning a friend to vent or doing a few yoga moves. These techniques can help fight eating as an emotional response to stress.


3 responses to “Why We Eat When We Are Stressed”

  1. Sometimes it can be out of habit and sometimes to comfort the mind. Try chewing gum or going for a walk instead of grabbing a bag of chips.

  2. Amy Grasman, FNP-C Avatar
    Amy Grasman, FNP-C

    I think that it is safe to say that most of us eat when we are stressed. I personally have a difficult time with this and have found that going for a walk orlistening to my IPOD or both helps this and when this doesn’t help, I try to make better choices when I do reach and grab for something to eat, such as soemthing high protein, some cheeze, or chesse spread and low fat ritz cracker, or a piece of fruit, give it a try.

  3. I can’t believe how much easier it is to NOT eat during stressed times now that I have a band. It is not perfect by any means by the band gives me a “peace of mind” I guess you could say. It truly helps! I focus on what I have to do with the band rather than what can I eat now that I am stressed out!

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