How Stress Sabotages How You Eat (And What You Can Do About It)

Everyone deals with stress from time to time. But if you’re dealing with ongoing stresses, it’s important to understand how it affects your food choices.

Emotional eating or stress eating is a common response to stressful situations. Around 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress – and a good percentage more might not even realise that is what they do!
Eating comfort food is not just in your head. It is your body’s way of releasing feel-good chemicals to help you cope with stress. But over time, it adds up to unhealthy choices and extra weight.

The good news is there is a way to counteract stress eating naturally.

What stress does to your body
In the short-term, stress can shut down your appetite. You might have experienced this if you’ve ever had a shock, such as a sudden relationship breakup or the death of someone close to you.
The general response to stress includes the digestive tract slowing down as you enter fight-or-flight mode. The body releases sugars into the bloodstream so that you have quick energy to deal with the perceived threat. This results in you eating less, which can have a negative effect on the metabolism.
But when stress persists, it can have the opposite effect. The adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol can increase appetite and ramp up the motivation to eat.
Have you ever noticed that you get ravenously hungry on your busier weeks? That is cortisol at work.

The impacts of stress on your food choices
It’s not just what happens to your physical body. Stress also affects your food preferences and the foods you choose to eat on any given day.
Studies have shown that distress, whether physical or emotional, leads to a greater intake of foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both.
These ‘comfort foods’ have a calming effect on the brain. They inhibit activity in the parts of the brain responsible for stress. Because they are pleasurable to eat as well as reducing the stress response, it reinforces our enjoyment of those foods and encourages us to eat more than we actually need to.
Unfortunately, when you eat an excess of these comfort foods, they are converted into fat deposits. Under stress, these deposits gravitate towards the waistline and around the internal organs. This visceral fat is associated with a higher risk of dozens of chronic diseases.
So if you want to live a longer and healthier life, addressing stress and its impact on your eating habits is key.

How mindful eating combats stress eating habits
So now that we know that stress eating adds up to poor health, what can we do to counteract it? This comes down to a technique known as mindful eating.
Mindful eating is about focusing your attention and awareness on the present moment. It helps you to disconnect from unhealthy habits and behaviours around eating, including stress eating, boredom eating or eating mindlessly.
When you eat mindfully, you’re focusing on what you are eating while you’re eating it, instead of focusing on the things that are stressing you or demanding your attention.
Mindful eating isn’t just a way to slow down your eating. Research has suggested it can help with blood sugar control and weight loss, reducing cortisol levels and even reducing unhealthy eating habits such as stress eating and binge eating.

What a mindful eating practice looks like
Ready to give mindful eating a try? Here’s how to get started.
You want to eat slowly, with minimal distractions. That means putting the phone away, switching the TV off. Make sure every mouthful you take has your full attention.
As you eat your food, notice everything. Enjoy the presentation of your meal if it’s colourful or cleverly plated. Appreciate the scent, texture and flavour with each mouthful.
Now is also the time to observe how food might impact your emotions. Does this food make you feel happy? Or do you feel guilty and anxious about eating it? Be aware of how different foods make you feel.
The end goal is to until you are satisfied, not stuffed. But by eating slowly and mindfully, you train yourself to eat until you are pleasantly full at every meal.

Are you interested in learning more about how you can reduce the impact of stress on your body? Then my Busy Women’s Monthly Membership is the place you want to be.

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