Science, Now + Beyond

Here’s the truth behind stress eating

Some of us internalize our stress and let it build up while others are more effective in engaging in self-care activities.

We all deal with stress in life… whether it’s too many exams at school, an unbearable amount of deadlines at work, or literally anything. Some of us internalize our stress and let it build up, while others are more effective in engaging in self-care activities. Each one of us copes with stress differently and some people, including myself, wind up stress eating.

I’m definitely guilty of resorting to a bag of chips or Sour Patch Kids, especially on the night before a big exam. It’s not that I’m actually hungry, but there’s something comforting about having food when you’re stressed out. But scientists say that if you manage your stress incorrectly, there could be detrimental consequences on both your physical and mental health.

What is stress eating?

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Stress eating, or emotional eating, is turning to food for comfort, not because you are hungry. Doctors say stress eating can be harmful because not only are you eating more than you need to, but you can also put on more weight.

This happens because stress causes your adrenal glands (small glands that produce hormones) to release a hormone called cortisol, which then increases your appetite and makes you eat more. We crave junk food not just because it tastes good, but because it excites the brain.

Alternative options

Rather than resorting to food when you’re stressed, anxious, or unhappy, scientists recommend you do any of these:

1. Go for a walk or jog

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Even if it’s just for 15 or 20 minutes, going outside for a walk and getting fresh air is a much better option than engaging in stress eating. This will give you a chance to clear your mind and get some exercise. Walking can help strengthen your heart, give your more energy and boost your mood.

2. Practice deep breathing or meditate

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Rather than reaching for a bag of chips, consider meditating. This can help bring you inner peace and take your mind off of whatever has you stressed out. Deep breathing is scientifically proven to help lower stress in the body because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.

3. Keep a food diary

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Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you are eating and when. It can also help you be more mindful of the food related decisions you are making on a day to day basis. You can also track patterns in your diet and see what you need to work on more. Keeping a food diary helps you helps you practice accountability and can assist you in eating more well-balanced meals.

4. Read a book or listen to music

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Rather than finding comfort in a bag of candy, you can find comfort in a good book. Reading is also scientifically proven to help reduce stress. Psychologists believe that reading can help ease the tensions in muscles and the heart because of the literary world readers are put into. The same group of psychologists also found that listening to music can also help bring down stress levels.

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If stress eating is a regular part of your life, you’re not alone. But it’s important you recognize the issue and actively work on finding better ways to manage and cope with your stress. There are tons more possible avenues for you to release stress. Find the healthy one that works best for you!