What is Stress Eating / Emotional Eating?
Stress eating means eating or over-eating triggered by emotions (e.g. stress, sadness, boredom). Have you ever felt the urge to eat a tub of icecream, a packet of fries or potato chips when you’re feeling down? This can happen even though you are full, and may trigger feelings of guilt after you indulge.
Is This a Cause for Concern?
Eating or over-eating due to negative emotions can be a worrying habit because it can contribute to weight gain, which increases the risk of heart diseases and diabetes.
Why do We Eat When We are Stressed?
Stressful situations can result in higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone), which may trigger cravings for pleasurable food such as sweet, salty, or fried foods! A study in 2001 by Epel et al. highlighted the associations of stress-induced cortisol levels and calorie intake in women, particularly for sweet and high fat foods.
Stress eating might also occur if you associate pleasurable food as “comfort food” when you are feeling down. For example, your parents may have given you pleasurable food like sweets when you are feeling sad. Perhaps you fell down, and you were given a sweet?
Frequent occurrences of such situations amy result in unconsciously reaching out to pleasurable food when you feel down.
To “Feel” Better
Sometimes you feel instantly better after having that tub of icecream. Do you know why? Eating sweet and salty food can increase the opioids (pain relief substances) in your body, allowing you to feel more relaxed. That being said, too much becomes an issue – where you over-consume, which can result in weight gain.
Influence from Media
It seems almost too cliché that characters in movies tend to indulge in food when they are stressed or upset!
What Can You do Instead?
Healthier Snack Options
Find healthier alternatives such as unsalted nuts! You might say “Of course I know there are healthier options. But there’s no substitute for potato chips or icecream!” If you feel this way, find healthier versions of these foods
- Crave potato chips? Choose options cooked in healthier oils or baked wholegrain chips
- Crave icecream? Choose frozen bananas! We have a recipe right here – healthy icecream made from bananas, berries and low-fat milk!
- Crave cake? Choose a sugar-free version! We have a recipe right here on a sugar-free carrot cake!
- Crave sweet drinks such as Coke? Choose Diet Coke instead! 500ml of Coke contains 11 teaspoons of sugar!
Indulge in Non-Food-Related Activities
What else makes you happy apart from food? Think about what lifts your spirits, or what do you feel energised doing? Hint: Brisk walking at the park, going on walking trails with your family on the weekends, or simply listening to positive music could be possible alternatives.
Practice mindful eating. This means to pay attention, and be aware of the present moment, without holding any judgement.
In this fast-paced life we live in, pausing and focusing on the food in front of you can very much reduce the likelihood of over-eating when you are upset. Wonder how to do it? This is a summary of 8 steps to mindful eating that I find helpful:
Forgive Yourself if You Indulge Sometimes
It’s ok if you indulge in emotional eating sometimes. If you feel guilty after indulging, it’s important to acknowledge it, and take action from there. It is interesting to note that negative feelings are thought of as something that must be avoided. However, if we acknowledge such feelings, more often than not, we will be able to discover the root cause of the feelings and address it suitably instead of turning to food.
Make a commitment to stop stress eating. Take a chance on these tips:
- Choose Healthier snack options
- Indulge in Non-food-related activities
- Practice Mindful Eating
- Forgive yourself if you indulge sometimes
Hope this helps! Drop me an email anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org – would love to hear your thoughts about this article!