Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations. Stress is generally a common cause of changed eating pattern and behaviour. Stress eating is using food to make yourself feel better—to fill emotional needs, rather than your stomach. This however is a dichotomy, because not only does one feel stressed but also guilty for overeating.
Sometimes both positive (getting married, moving homes, having a baby) and negative happenings (any trauma or tragedy) can cause stress. Stress causes some people to ignore their hunger, for other people, stress turns them into emotional eaters, who mindlessly eat.
Why is food the stress reliever?
Certain emotions leave a feeling of emptiness. Food is used as a medium to fill that space/void and create a false feeling of ‘fullness’.
How does stress cause hunger?
As humans, we have two relationships with food
1. A physical relationship (the type of foods we eat based on culture and preferences)
- A psychological relationship (how we think about food, how we use food and how food relates your body image)
We can either use food to satisfy true hunger and the requirement of the physical body and other times use it to satisfy an emotion.
Difference between Stress Hunger and Physical Hunger
- Stress hunger is a trigger of emotion and comes on suddenly V/S Physical hunger comes on gradually
- Stress hunger feels like it needs immediate satisfaction and attention V/S Physical hunger develops overtime
- Stress hunger craves specific comfort foods V/S Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good
- Stress hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach V/S Physical hunger stops when you’re full
- Stress hunger triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame V/S Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself
Cortisol and Stress Eating
The biological reason to overeat when stressed may be that persistent stress causes increased and ongoing secretion of a hormone called cortisol into the bloodstream. High blood levels of cortisol are linked to increased appetite.
What does Cortisol do?
Cortisol can make you crave sugary, salty and fatty foods, because your brain thinks it needs fuel to fight whatever threat is causing the stress.
Some ways to stop stress eating
- Fght craving
- Drink a glass of water first when hungry
- Pinpoint trigger points
- Find healthier ways of satisfying your feelings
- Avoid stocking junk food/your go to unhealthy stress relieving comfort food options
- Exercise/ go for a walk
- Find ways other than food to help deal with stress
If you feel that you tend to eat more when in stress, ask these questions
- Can I control this craving for 10 minutes?
- Can I go for a quick walk or just take a round of the house instead?
- Can I do something to calm me down such as drawing, meditating, speaking to someone?
- Can I eat a healthier option instead?
As an online nutritionist Ambika says the best way is to regular exercise and making sure you get enough sleep every night also can help you to better handle the challenges that come up every day.