Stress eating: What it is, Causes, and Treatment
Do you sometimes find unhealthy, sweet foods irresistible especially when facing a difficult situation?
Does your craving for junk food and sugary snacks amplify when distressed? And do you find eating comforting when unhappy, fatigued, nervous, or overwhelmed?
Well, friend, you could be suffering from stress eating and it could hurt you.
In this in-depth guide to emotional eating, we will look at what it is, causes, and how you can halt it. Let’s delve right in:
What is stress eating?
Also called emotional eating, stress eating is simply consuming food not because you’re hungry but due to your emotional cue/feelings.
For example, you may get an urge to munch a whole plate of chips when feeling anxious, sad, lonely, or even angry in an effort to cope with your mood swings.
Emotional eating causes
What are the known triggers of emotional eating?
Hormonal issues influencing stress eating
The stress-fighting hormone cortisol is thought to be at the heart of stress eating principally because one of its responses to your anxiety is increasing your appetitive.
This makes your body to yearn for “comfort foods” to boost its ‘gas tank’ reserves which it then uses to either fight or flee the accumulating stress.
You may be more prone to careless eating if you traditionally associate food with positive feelings.
This is brought by factors like your upbringing if for example, your guardians used to offer you food as a reward for a good deed.
If you’re always speaking mean things unto yourself, you at some point start believing that you’re disgusting, weak, or a loser.
This creates some emptiness which you may mistakenly try to fill by eating mindlessly.
Effects of stress eating
Because it’s largely impulsive, you often do not watch your food choices meaning you will frequently indulge in unhealthy diets.
This may result in wide-ranging effects on your body and overall health. Let’s look at a few examples:
Feeling of guilt
You might feel sorry for yourself after every emotional eating spree. Your sense of guilt comes from the realization that you’ve just gulped down yet another cup of coffee despite being aware that it’s no good for stress.
While some may eat less when distressed, the longing typically leads to over-eating of foods that ordinarily occasion weight gain.
And so the consumed high-calorie, sweet, and fatty delicacies will negate your ongoing weight-loss efforts and raises your risk for related ailments like diabetes.
You see, indulging your sweet tooth only brings momentary relief from your negative feelings. But, as I mentioned above, you’ll soon be berating yourself for lacking the willpower to contain the cravings.
But it doesn’t end there and you surely find yourself binge eating next time you’re disturbed. Again you start pulling your hair out immediately the reality dawns.
And so, eating to fill the void left by your emotions leads to a vicious cycle which eventually harms your self-esteem as you might start feeling worthless and reckless.
Since it’s your emotions dictating what and how you eat, you may sometimes take in foods that disrupt your digestive balance causing stomach discomforts.
You may also experience stomach pain because of eating to your fullest or eating too fast.
How to tell that you’re emotionally eating (and not physically hungry)
To overcome stress eating, it’s important that you first distinguish between emotional and physical hunger.
To do this, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you feel ‘full’ only after eating sugary, fatty foods?
- Do you become overwhelmingly panicky and dreadful when you finish a bite?
- Do you habitually experience shame over your choice of meals?
- Do you only get an appetite for feeding only after a frustrating event?
- Have you been struggling with over-eating and so far feel helpless about it?
- Do you always suddenly feel an urgency to eat (even after recently devouring a heavy, nutritious meal)?
- Do you feel hunger as a thirst that can’t escape your head rather than pangs in your belly?
If you’ve answered yes to most of these questions, you’re probably ailing from the damaging emotional eating trend.
How to overcome emotional eating and stress eating disorder
Luckily, it’s not all gloom and you can easily tame the senseless food ingestion.
Try these steps if you want to stop stress eating:
Avoid the Emotional Eating Triggers
If you can eschew the triggers, you will surely reduce your stress eating incidences. To do this:
Seek support from your social circle during the trying times when you feel emotionally drained.
Occupy yourself with activities that might relieve stress, anxiety, and sadness when under pressure. Examples include your hobbies like walking, dancing, or yoga. You also participate in wellness improvement activities such as various mindfulness techniques or reading an inspirational book.
Practice mindful eating to Reduce Binge Eating
This means you treat your physical hunger by observing the following:
- Eating modest portions.
- Eating slowly (to easily notice when full).
- Eating wholesome dishes.
- Not skipping meal time.
- Consciously chewing well.
- Taking a healthy snack in between meals.
Keep a food journal to Identify Cause of Emotional Eating
A food diary may help you to identify situations that cause you to eat from emotions instead of real hunger.
You can then craft a plan to combat these scenarios.
For instance, if its conflict at your workplace, you can engage your seniors for mediation instead of engaging in a detrimental shouting match.
If its boredom, get involved in something constructive. And so on.
Other emotional eating treatments
You can also seek professional emotional eating treatments if you’re completely defeated by your cravings.
Now, if this is the approach you’ll take, expect your therapist, psychologist, or nutritionist to introduce you to alternative ways to breaking the dangerous cycle of stress eating.
He/she may investigate if it’s other eating disorders that are bringing you to emotional eating and then suggest positive eating habits.
Choose Stress Eating Coping Skills
Whatever the cause, stress eating has disastrous consequences Healthwise. The good news is that you can prevail over it by turning to the various stress eating coping skills.
These include knowing and steering clear of the potential triggers, practicing mindful eating as well as maintaining a food diary.
You can also seek professional help.