Stress Eating: Causes, Weight Gain, and Solutions

When you are stressed out you might think that the solution to all your problems and the one thing that will relieve your bad feeling is to eat, but no, emotional eating is not the solution.

Eating because you are feeling anxious or perturbed can have an extremely negative effect on your health. Especially because we tend to turn to foods that will comfort us when we are feeling emotional, and those foods will tend to be the types of foods that are unhealthy.

Eating a bar of chocolate might boost your endorphin levels and make you feel happy and slightly better, but this is only a very temporary solution, and when the feeling of satisfaction subsides all you are left with is a feeling of guilt which is more likely to stress you out even more.

So, how do you overcome bad eating habits? Well, the first thing you need to do is to work out what is causing your emotional tension and therefore making you turn to food as a cure. The next thing you need to do is to find a different way to cope with your stress and get you out of the habit of turning to food as a coping mechanism.

What causes stress eating?

The first thing you need to do is to work out what it is that is making you stressed out in the first place. Here are 3 reasons, that are all closely linked, as to why you might be pressed and turning to food to ease your worry:

Work/life balance: One of the most common contributory factors can be demanding and physical tension at work. Maybe your boss asks too much of you. Perhaps your workload is unmanageable.

Even the commute to work, especially if it is a long one, can be stressful. Whatever the reason, an unhealthy work/life balance can leave you feeling fraught and highly unbalanced.

Money problems: Ask anyone in the world what they worry about the most and at least 90% of people will say it’s something to do with money. Money, or lack of it, is a major factor in how happy we feel.

Even though we all know deep down that there is more to life than money, we also know that without it, we won’t be able to pay our bills and that worry alone can keep you up at night and also, diving into the fridge to comfort eat.

Family/home life: Juggling your work and family life can be very uncomfortable. Arguing with your partner can heighten your emotional pressure levels. If you’re the ‘home-maker’ then, in this day and age.

That means that you’re probably working full time and also managing the home in what can feel like a never-ending juggling act.

We are all constantly busy multitasking in a very fast-paced world where feeling worried is considered the norm rather than the extreme.

There can be lots of other reasons why you are stressed, you could try making a list of all the things. Seeing those reasons written down on paper might help to trivialize the things that unnecessarily feeling you out and make you realize that you really don’t need to sweat the small stuff.

By trying to eat your pressure away you’re only making the situation worse. You might think that you’re making yourself feel better when actually you’re not.

Our minds don’t always follow the path of logic when we are in a heightened emotional state. For E.g. We all know that exercise combined with a healthy diet will help your body better deal with pressure, and yet, we are more likely to avoid them at times in our lives when we need them the most.

Stress and weight gain

Chronic stress can lead to weight gain, according to scientific study, it’s the neuroendocrine system in our bodies that triggers hormones that make us want to eat when we are stressed. It goes way back to our ancestors in the days of the caveman, where the human instinct was to survive under situations of severe threat such as a potential predator attack.

Those hormones are still there even if these days we are more likely to feel stressed out about missing the bus than by being attacked by a raging animal that wants to eat us!

When we’re anxious and pressed, the hormones released include the instant energy release hormone, adrenalin. This combination of hormones also includes corticotrophin and cortisol which will initially cause appetite depletion.

But, once the effects of this high level of adrenaline wear off and the stress goes away, the cortisol hormone stays around in our systems for a while longer which leads to an increase in appetite, making us want to consume food more.

Unlike our ancestors, we are not necessarily having to physically run away or fight our way out of a situation, which means that we are not burning off the calories in the same way they would have had to.

We are most likely sitting on the sofa watching our favorite boxset while munching down on a bucket of deep-fried chicken, or something equally as unhealthy. We’re not burning the calories off so the weight piles on.

Weight gain and unhealthy anxiety levels can lead to serious medical conditions such as heart disease, or a heart attack. Obesity combined with a poor diet can cause diabetes or other severe health conditions. And although you may think it is all well and good using stress as an excuse for your weight gain.

That constant abuse that you are putting your body through has probably become such a habit or stress coping mechanism that you are feeling too overwhelmed to know how to start fixing the problem.

It’s a vicious circle, but it is one that you can break if you take some simple steps that can change your mindset completely and make you re-think your stress coping mechanisms.

Tips to stop mindless eating when pressed

1. Keep a food diary/journal

You need to identify what your stress triggers are so that you know how to avoid using food as a cure to your stress. Keep a food diary and list down everything that you eat and how you are feeling when you are eating it.

Food diary

For example, your boss has added even more work to your already bulging workload and you feel stressed, so you eat a packet of biscuits. Note this down and then next time this happens you will know that you need to find something else to do to help you cope with your stress that isn’t related to food.

2. Hang on in there

Just like any other emotion, a stressful episode should not take long to pass so you simply need to ride it out. Take some deep breaths and go to your happy place. If you can do this and the storm passes, then you will feel empowered and therefore less likely to dive for the crisp packet next time you feel bad.

You will see that by taking almost no action at all to overcome the situation that you can, in fact, cope with stress a lot better than you thought you could, and therefore you are better equipped to know how to remain calm during the next stressful episode in your life.

3. Find something else to do

Once you start to use food as a stress-coping mechanism, then you will automatically think that you need food to make yourself feel better when having any issue. This is a habit and you will need to break the cycle.

Find something else to do, if you’re at work then get up and go for a walk, even if it’s only around the building. If you’re not at work and you’re feeling stressed, then do some light exercise.

The important thing is that you find something to do that will help to fix the problem, so it should be something that you enjoy doing rather than something that is going to cause you more issues. How you relieve your tension is up to you, but as long as it’s not by eating then you have broken that habit, hopefully for good.

4. Challenge yourself

If through stress-eating you have put on some weight you are probably making all sorts of excuses to avoid changing your ways, such as telling people that you don’t have time to lose weight because you’re too stressed and life is too hectic right now.

This is a pretty lame excuse and is not at all true. This is the 21st century, life is hectic and busy all the time.

If you’re waiting for your life to be peaceful and tranquil before you start trying to do something about your weight, then it’s never going to happen.

You need to challenge yourself to forget consuming food when you’re not really hungry and get healthy at the same time. That way you will not only feel the health benefits, but you will also feel a sense of personal achievement.

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