Stress eating is a pattern of eating in which people eat food to help them deal with stressful situations. Several people experience stress eating many times in their lifetime. It can be eating a bag of chips when bored or eating chocolate after a tough day at work. But when stress eating happens frequently then their health, life and body weight can be negatively affected.
Symptoms of Stress Eating
Most common symptoms is uncontrolled food craving. Some people use ice cream to suppress their sadness of being fired or after breakup. It is just a way to handle stress.
Usually hunger is a feeling in the stomach. It goes away when your stomach is full. The stomach relaxes. This is the point when normal eater will stop eating. While stress eating is a thought connected to an emotion. It doesn’t have any connection with body or stomach. It comes suddenly and usually requires very specific foods. Many people in such situation may eat quickly i.e. in an absent minded way.
The stress eater stops eating when a certain sense of pleasure has been reached like “Its only one bite”, “I just need it” etc. It is not related to hunger or full stomach. Once the feeling of “relief” is achieved, the stress eater feels like he is coming out of stress and then he realizes what happened just now. Now grows the feeling of guilt that “I shouldn’t have done this”. Stress eater mostly confuse stress craving with real hunger which ends up with feeling guilty.
Causes of Stress Eating
Mostly stress eating is related to unpleasant feelings, but yes, it can also be activated by positive emotions like rewarding for achieving certain goal, enjoying any happy event. Some causes of stress eating are:-
Boredom – This feeling of emptiness leads to eat simply to give yourself something to relieve boredom. One feels empty and food is a way to occupy your time. It fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
Stuffing emotions – Eating food can be a best way to short-time silencing the uncomfortable emotions like anger, sadness, loneliness, fear, anxiety and shame. While you are diverting yourself with food, you can avoid tough emotions you had rather not feel.
Stress – When stress is severe, most common in today’s fast paced life, our body produces high levels of stress hormone named “Cortisol”. Cortisol activates craving for salty, sweet and sometimes fired food. This gives us a burst of energy and pleasure. The more your life is stressed the more likely you are to convert to food for stress relief.
Society – Staying with other people for eating is a great way to relieve from stress, but mostly it leads to overeating. You may also do overeating in social surroundings out of nervousness. Many a times your family and friends encourages you to overeat and it’s easier to go along with group.
Infantile habits – The infantile habits of getting rewarded for your achievements from your parents by treating you with ice creams or pizzas etc. can often carry over into adulthood. Even your eating may be driven by cherished memories of grilled burger with your parents or eating cookies with your grand mom.
Remedies of Stress Eating
Try following tips to avoid stress eating:-
Maintain a diary – In down time write on what you eat, how you eat, when you eat and how frequent you are hungry. This might show you patterns that reveal the connection between food and mood.
Fight Boredom – Instead of feeding yourself when not feeling hungry, distract yourself and develop a healthier behavior. Go for a walk, play with your pets, listen music, read, surf the internet or watch movie.
Tame your stress – If stress is contributing too much to your eating, start practicing the stress management technique like yoga, deep breathing or meditation.
Reality check – If you ate few hours ago and don’t have a roar stomach, means you are not really hungry. Let the craving time to pass.
Family support – A person is more likely to get into stress eating if he lacks a good family support. Lean on family and friends and try joining a good supporting group.
Control temptation – Don’t keep foods at home which are hard to resist for you. Also, if you feel angry, just postpone visiting grocery store until you control your emotions.
Stop depriving yourself – Limit consuming too much calories, eat same food repeatedly. Eat satisfying amounts of healthy food, enjoy occasional treat and have plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
Healthy snacks – If you have the habit of feeling a urge to eat between meals, opt healthy snack like fruits, nuts, unbuttered popcorns etc.
Focus on real issues – It is a fact that food is just a diversion when we are stressed. Stress eating is not a major problem but a symptom of unmet needs.
Think twice – Take a moment to focus on the future before you get into stress eating. It will help you come out of the situation and move towards healthy food choices.
Be kind – If you do stress eating, be sure you won’t stuck into it and will understand that it happens with everyone sometimes. It will definitely help you stop from eating out of failure or sadness and help you choose better options later.
If no option left – Just sit down and relax yourself. Have a bit of ice cream, do so in moderation. Plan such a small piece of sweet rather than the whole batch.