Eating is necessary for survival. We eat to strengthen our bodies and minds, aid movement, and grow. Eating can also be a pleasurable activity and a stress reliever to ease your emotions.
Sometimes, you are most hit by food cravings when you are at your lowest emotionally. For example, you may consciously or unconsciously turn to food for comfort when facing a difficult problem, feeling stressed, or even bored. Ever wonder why?
Do you notice you crave a bag of chips or chocolate cake when you are having a tough day at work? You're not alone. If you've ever wondered why you feel like eating when you experience emotional distress, keep reading!
Stress or emotional eating is eating to deal with difficult situations. It involves using food as a coping mechanism to suppress or navigate negative emotions such as grief, stress, boredom, anger, sadness, failure, and loneliness. The list is endless.
Emotions and negative feelings trigger stress eating. As the name "stress eating" implies, stress is a major trigger. Studies show that stress releases hormones that push people to indulge in high-fat, sugary foods for comfort.
Short-term stress can reduce your appetite. This is because the nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands to produce epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Epinephrine activates the body's fight-or-flight response, a physiological state that temporarily halts eating.
However, if stress persists, the outcome is different in the long run. This is because the adrenal glands release another hormone known as cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and raises the motivation to eat. Aside from stress, boredom triggers stress eating. People are often involved in many activities like playing video games and using phones, which stimulate the brain. Hence, the absence of an interesting or stimulating activity leaves a void that food can fill.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in your brain connected with feelings of reward and pleasure. Your brain isn't stimulated when you're bored, which decreases your dopamine levels. This triggers you to take action that will bring it back up, such as eating.
You can ruin your weight loss goals by stress eating. This is because it leads to overeating high-calorie, sweet and fatty foods, which may result in obesity. After stress eating, you tend to feel a sense of guilt. This guilt can lead to more stress-eating outbursts or low self-esteem, resulting in a vicious cycle. It literally never ends. As you can deduce, stress eating isn't beneficial to your physical or mental well-being. So, in that case, how can you stop it?
The first step in stopping stress eating is recognizing and avoiding your triggers.
Additionally, you can keep a food diary or journal to help you track your eating. It helps you monitor your eating habits and identify situations where you eat as a result of your emotions rather than physical hunger.
If you notice you eat when you're bored, you might consider starting a new book or movie that seems exciting. Or take up a new hobby or challenge.
If you're someone who eats because you're depressed, call a friend or journal to handle your negative feelings.
Contact a nutritionist or health care professional if you still struggle with stress eating.
Stress eating is not the absence of self-discipline. If you're struggling with stress eating, don't be too hard on yourself. Most importantly, you identify the problem and follow realistic ways of solving the issue.
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