Stress eating, as the name suggests, is a coping mechanism that develops due to the effects of pressure, stress, and anxiety. During periods of turbulent mental health or immense pressure, people resort to the habit of binging on “comfort foods”. This eventually leads to lasting impacts on the digestive system as well as body weight.
It is observed that stress reduces appetite in all people. The nervous system during stress episodes signals the adrenal glands to release the adrenaline hormone called epinephrine. Epinephrine induces a flight-or-fight response in the body, which triggers a certain physiological state that shuts down appetite and changes eating habits.
Appetite, which is caused by an adrenaline hormone called cortisol, is a major driver behind whatever food we choose to consume. This hormone is also a contributory factor to the overall motivational energy in people.
During persistent stress periods, the release of cortisol is considerably increased. It is also called the “hunger hormone” as it instigates the body to eat. When this condition persists, the body responds by resorting to the nearest food that counteracts stress.
A stress-induced loss in appetite naturally affects people’s food preferences. Vegetable intakes are replaced by high-sugar and high-fat intakes. Once this starts becoming a coping mechanism, the stress-induced craving for those comfort foods starts increasing to a point that stress-eating becomes a habit of over-eating.
Various studies have found that women are more likely to fall victim to stress eating. The gender difference in stress-coping behaviours is observed through the patterns of men mostly resorting to smoking or alcoholism, while women resorting to overeating.
These patterns stem from various problems that might range from losing keys or arguing with a friend, to missing deadlines or messing up a stage presentation. There is no reason too small or big, for anything can trigger stress in people. A long hectic day at work or everyday life hassles can compel people to snack their way through stress.
Stress eating is also correlated to weight gain and obesity. It is natural for people to gain weight as stress periods continue and stress-eating becomes a regular habit. This occurs more in already obese people as insulin levels are already higher in their bodies from an initial state. Weight gain is known to occur more in the presence of higher insulin, which explains why some people tend to turn obese over stress episodes.
A Finnish study observing 5000 men and women concluded that obesity is more associated with the surveyed women than the men. Those who resort to stress-eating behaviours are called “emotional eaters”.
Emotional eating stems from anger, apathy, depression, anxiety, and any other overwhelming feeling. Rewarding self-medication with large bites from one’s “comfort food” dispels this unwanted distress. Higher BMIs induce more weight gain and chronic stress, and consistent with this notion, stress-eating finds significant links with obesity in women.
The most common problems that women undergo due to stress-eating and consequent obesity are gynaecological problems. As it is, stress itself hampers menstrual cycles and causes adverse effects on the reproduction system. A long-term effect of combined overeating and stress can affect fertility and overall reproductive health.
Hormonal secretions, gynaecological issues, and appetite are all interrelated and show significant degradation during periods of stress. Women with menopausal signs or going through phases of menopause are often the worst affected by this.
Putting an end to stress eating habits is a very difficult task. The first step is to recognise the pattern. One should be aware of all the emotional triggers that push one to eat.
Removing common offenders from the fridge like fat and sugar foods helps a lot with controlling the craving. Heavily processed food items are also one of the major go-to’s for stress cravings. The fewer these food stocks in your home, the faster one recovers from stress eating.
It is also quite common to binge eat while watching something. This is a very commonly seen habit among most people today. Binging and eating are also a response to stress as people love to dissociate from work and the real world through this. These activities, while being gateways from stress, are also one of the major reasons for eventual obesity and a degenerating digestive system.
It is good to replace activities like these with things like walking around, meditating, painting, reading a book, writing a journal, and other habits that one loves to do. De-stress activities help in redeeming hormonal balance in the body which also helps one get back their appetite.
A compulsory thing to do is drinking lots of water throughout the day and keeping the body hydrated. Body movements help with decreasing blood pressure, chronic headaches, and sleeping troubles which consequently improve metabolic rates. Light exercise also helps in calming the mind and keeps the body cool.
Anybody facing serious issues with handling stress and pressure should immediately seek out professional help. Proactively scheduling events to make social contacts with friends or family is a good way to start with this.
In case of no improvement, one should make appointments with their doctor or therapist. They must remember that this is a completely curable condition, and that help is out there.
Featured Image Source: Glamour UK