Hasn’t each one of us treated ourselves to a chocolate cake or a pizza after a setback or a long, tiring day? While using these foods for comfort once in a while might be alright, stress eating on a regular basis has lasting repercussions on your mind and health. Though many people blame their lack of will power and consistency for emotional binges, the truth is that there are chemical processes taking place in the body which make it turn to food for comfort.
Difference Between Physical & Emotional Hunger
Hunger is a natural call from the body for nourishment. When the body is low on energy, it demands to be fed in order to fuel our physical and mental processes. However, physical hunger is not the only kind of hunger. There is another kind of hunger which is not as straightforward.
On the other hand, emotional hunger is hunger which is a byproduct of the mind. It is a situation where the body asks you to consume unhealthy foods as a coping mechanism to deal with difficult moments. While the body gives out physical signs like growling of the stomach and decreased energy with physical hunger, emotional hunger makes the person crave for specific (usually unhealthy) foods like snacks and sweets. A person with physical hunger can be satiated with a reasonable amount of healthy food. On the contrary, stress eating disorder causes people to eat large amounts of foods followed by a lack of satisfaction.
Causes Of Stress Eating
Stress and food are deeply connected. Your body is likely to respond to stress differently from anyone else around you. While some people lose their sense of hunger and go without food for long periods of time while in stress, others cannot stop themselves from unconsciously consuming bags of junk food to deal with their stress and emotions. Scientifically, it is a chemical called cortisol that causes the body to crave oily, salty and sugary food when in stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes the brain to go into survival mode in difficult situations, leading it to crave calorie-rich foods to sustain itself in times of distress.
8 Ways In Which Stress Can Impact Your Metabolism
Overeating on account of stress damages the mental and physical wellbeing of an individual.
- Weight gain is the most apparent effect of stress and emotional eating
- High blood pressure
- Digestion problems
- mental health problems that manifest through symptoms like irritability, moodiness, and denial of problems
6 Tips To Prevent Stress Eating
1. Avoid Triggers
Identifying what stress eating is the first step towards ending the vicious cycle of mindless munching. Avoiding triggers refers to zeroing down on the emotional eating causes and finding ways to prevent those situations. A good way to start this identifying process would be to understand the foods you crave for when in stress, the emotions that make you turn to food and what causes these emotions. Once the root cause of the binge-eating cravings is known, you will be in a better position to prepare and deal with the stress eating situation.
2. Build Coping Mechanisms
Once you know what triggers your unhealthy cravings, it is time to build coping mechanisms and come up with an emotional eating therapy plan that will help you fight these triggers. The most effective coping mechanisms are activities that really interest you. It could be anything that takes your mind off the want to eat. Writing a journal, meditation, going grocery shopping for foods that relieve stress, physical activities, calling a friend and reading a book are some of the effective coping mechanisms that help in diverting the mind from wanting food.
3. Portion Control
Stress causes a person to mindlessly gobble down huge amounts of junk food, leading to disappointment and guilt after the eating session. The brain has no time to understand and appreciate the texture, smell and taste of the food. It is also unable to send signals of being full. Training the mind to eat slowly, even while resorting to stress eating is a great way to consume less amounts of unnecessary foods. Taking time to savour the taste of the food, even putting down cutlery between two bites serves as emotional eating therapy and helps in consuming less food.
4. Find Healthier Alternatives
The usual food choices for emotional eaters are greasy, processed and sugary foods. These foods are created and marketed in a way that encourages overeating. Finding healthier alternatives for food items and foods that relieve stress that the body craves when in stress is an effective way of managing emotional eating binges. Replacing the high salt/sugar foods by naturally sourced/ less sugar/ whole food options that are proven to be foods that reduce stress will satiate the body sooner and lead to a reduction in the amount of food consumed while in stress.
5. Maintain A Food Diary
Keeping track of the food eaten in a day can help in understanding the deviations caused in one’s eating patterns due to stress and emotional factors. The food diary presents one with an opportunity to understand and document if the foods are being consumed for nourishment or for emotional reasons. An efficient way of maintaining a food diary is by marking foods consumed against the reason for their consumption. These reasons can be hunger, fun, boredom, stress or craving. The food diary can also be used to mention the stressors that led one to eat the wrong foods and specify the quantity of foods eaten. Documenting all the information is an excellent way to analyse and fix one’s stress eating disorder.
6. Reduce Access To Unhealthy Foods
Everyone has a specific type of food/foods that they turn to when they are overwhelmed with stress and emotion. The plan should be to make access to these food items inconvenient. More often than not, the time it takes to procure these food items is enough for the bingeing impulse to reduce and the rational thinking process to kick in. Not stocking up on your favourite junk foods can help greatly in fixing a stress eating disorder.
All individuals have a unique relationship with food. Some people are in sync with their bodies and are able to identify physical hunger from emotional hunger, leading to a healthy mind and body. For others, dealing with stress and overeating remains a challenge. Equipping oneself with knowledge and understanding of how to prevent stress eating is essential for avoiding unreasonable hunger pangs and eventual health problems. Ensuring good sleep patterns, increasing the intake of foods that reduce stress and regular physical exercise should be a part of everybody’s life, so that overeating episodes can be reduced considerably, if not eliminated.
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