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Combating Stress Eating

By: Sanya Jain

Wow, what a busy day. You jump onto your couch and switch on the TV. On impulse, you grab a pack of chips and munch away. You tell yourself you’re only going to eat a few. Before you know it, the bag is empty. You’re feeling better.

There is much truth behind the concept of stress eating. Whether you’re dealing with an upcoming deadline or a big test, stress can trigger our desire for comfort food, pushing us to overeat. These “comfort” foods, usually high in sugar and fats, interfere with our normal eating habits and push us towards making unhealthy choices. In the short term, they provide temporary comfort, but they ultimately fail to solve underlying issues. In fact, studies have shown that stress eating is associated with higher levels of anxiety and the end result is usually significant weight gain.

There is a key distinction between short and long term responses to stress. Short term responses suppress the appetite. Essentially, the adrenal glands are stimulated to release epinephrine and norepinephrine- commonly known as hormones which produce a “flight or fight response,” and push us away from craving food. In a long term response, however, the stress persists. The adrenal glands instead secrete cortisol, which increases levels of hunger. Our body begins to long for energy-dense snacks to fight back the stressors, eventually contributing to weight gain.

Occasionally picking up an unhealthy snack to celebrate doesn’t hurt that much. But if you’re at a point at which your first impulse is to grab a pack of chips to uplift your mood, you can fall into an endless cycle where your real issues are not being addressed. The relief does feel good for a moment, but it’s only temporary, and the emotions that triggered the cravings still persist. Later on, you’ll most likely end up feeling worse due to the guilt that comes with consuming unnecessary calories.

Rest assured, there are a multitude of ways to avoid stress eating. One is that you should face your problems; instead of distracting your thoughts with sugary snacks, address what's troubling you and assess how you can deal with it. Moreover, you can make plans with friends and family. Studies show that comfort foods make us feel less lonely, so you could combat loneliness by spending time with others instead of mindlessly munching. Lastly, there’s always the go-to methods of alleviating stress: going for a walk, exercising, drawing, or meditating. However, if you must indulge, try to limit your portions as much as possible.

To learn more information about stress eating and how you can avoid it, you can visit the website below: https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/manage-stress



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