Why do I eat when I'm stressed? Many contributing factors affect your eating habits — stress not being the least of them.
As we are sure you know, eating when you are stressed or emotional can help 'snuff out' those feelings for a while and, for many, it is a great quick fix.
However, there are a number of health risks — both physical and mental — that come with using binge eating as a coping mechanism. Thankfully, there are some ways in which you can deal with it, but first, you will need to know why we do it and what exactly stress eating is.
Stress and Emotional Eating
A lot of us use food as a reward, means of celebrating or as a go-to for a boost of energy — and this is completely fine if done in moderation.
The real problem comes when eating is your first-choice coping mechanism. Unfortunately, this act will leave you stuck in a cycle that is terribly hard to break.
While eating, you will most likely feel fantastic, but it's extremely short-lived. Your emotional hunger will still be present after you have finished your snack and at the end of the day, all it has done is leave you pretty bloated.
In the long term, stress eating will mean you can't manage your feelings in healthy ways, you'll notice that it is harder to control your weight and overall, you will feel unable to cope without giving in to the temptation of food.
Don't worry, however — there are ways that you can kill the urge to eat and learn better ways to sort through your emotions.
Why We Eat When We're Stressed
So, why do we stress eat?
Many emotional eaters tend to binge while they are feeling lonely, sad, angry and various other negative emotions. In these times of need, food offers comfort which then steadies these feelings for a short period.
For others, eating can be a mechanism that allows them to stop thinking about the problem and real-world ideas on how they could fix it.
If you resonate with either of these, then you won't need to be told that the sugary, salty, fattening foods are the ones that we reach for during emotional turmoil. Cucumber slices and salad just don't seem to cut it — quite unfortunate.
How Stress Affects Eating Habits
But, how does stress affect eating habits exactly? Well, the answer is rather simple.
Feelings of stress and anxiety release heightened levels of cortisol into the body. This is a hormone which triggers an increased appetite and encourages you to fill up with food.
On the flip side, you may be included in the sector of people who are currently thinking 'but I'm forgetting to eat when I'm stressed'. This is normal too!
If this is you, your stress levels cloud your ability to recognise your hunger cues and so you go for a long period without eating. Everyone is different, so do not worry.
Granted, this could all feel quite scary, but don't panic because we are about to delve into...
How to Deal With Stress Eating
You'll be pleased to know that there are ways in which you can manage your stress eating — no, unfortunately, it won't necessarily be easy, but it will definitely be worth it!
So, how can I stop stress eating?
1. Know Your Triggers
Figure out what brings on stress — is it a place, a person, your job, or all three? Whatever it is, to start to come to terms with it, you will need to be absolutely certain about why you are stressed.
2. Keep a Food Diary
Daunting is it not? But forcing yourself to record everything you consume, and the times at which you eat them can provide valuable insight into any ongoing patterns.
Remember: no one ever has to see this, only you. So be true to yourself and write down every little detail — you will thank us later.
3. Get Support
Telling your loved ones what you are trying to achieve will ensure you have a great network supporting you to realise your goals. This is an integral part of overcoming your stress eating journey.
4. Combat Boredom
Boredom is used as an excuse to snack. To fight this, try to distract yourself. Listen to your favourite song, read a book, go for a walk or have a chat with a friend.
5. Don't Buy Temptation
Refrain from going to the supermarket unless you are in a relatively good mood. This will prevent you from filling your trolley up with chocolate, biscuits and crips, thus ridding your cupboards of all the foods that will tempt you.
6. Healthy Snacks
If you do get the urge to have a snack between your main meals, choose something healthy. Try an apple, some carrots sticks or a handful of nuts.
7. Forgive Yourself
You may relapse during your journey — this is okay and it happens to everyone! Relax, take a breath, and welcome tomorrow like the new day that it is and start again.
By now, your burning question 'why do I eat when I'm stressed' should be well and truly answered. Hopefully, you now have a detailed strategy in place to fight your emotional eating and bring a healthier, happier life into fruition.