Why Do We Stress Eat?

Stress Eating
Bethan Beddow

Stress-eating, known also as emotional eating, is the bane of many people’s lives. It can destroy our relationship with food, gifting us self-hatred and humiliation. Bethan Beddow investigates the causes of this impulse.

You might crave a sugary sweet and decide to have ‘just one more’, yet one more turns into ten more. And then once you’ve finished gulping the last crumb down; guilt, shame, even further stress ruins your day once more. But why do these delicious delights hold such a sway over us and why do we turn to them when stressed? 

There are many factors that trigger stress eating. It can be the one thing that you turn to when faced with university deadlines – it is an easy solution, a balm that quashes negative emotions for a few minutes. Yet it is only a temporary solution, and one that can worsen things afterwards. 

Breakdown and chronic stress contributes to ‘increased food intake’

There is a scientific explanation for stress-eating: to put it simply, our bodies contain a hormone called cortisol. It is produced by your adrenal glands, the triangle-shaped organs at the top of your kidneys. Cortisol is designed to increase energy in order for your body to handle the stress. However, when someone is constantly stressed, the system is deregulated and breaks down. T.C. Adam and E.S. Epel write that such a breakdown and chronic stress contributes to ‘increased food intake’. There is a synergy between the increased cortisol levels and the chemial reward mechanism from eating food. 

It can be possible to overcome stress-eating. Believe me, I’ve done it! Exercise can help immensely. It doesn’t have to be running or any other intense form of cardio. Simply doing yoga or Pilates can calm both your mind and body. Finally, just talking to a therapist or a loved one can help keep your stress levels low. You are not alone in this journey.

Bethan Beddow

Featured image courtesy of Christian Erfurt via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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