2203 Stress Eating


Stress eating: Why I do it and how can I stop?

  • Making bad food choices when you feel stress can easily become a habit
  • Cravings for sugar can be linked to neurochemical changes in your brain similar to those that happen with addictive drugs.
  • Feeling regret or shame is a sign that you’re doing emotional eating rather than eating because you are truly physically hungry.

Making bad food choices when you feel stress can easily become a habit. Often that habit includes a sugar-filled food or drink, highly processed foods and foods with lots of unhealthy fats. While eating a candy bar may make you feel good for a moment, afterward you may wonder ‘why did I eat that?’ That feeling of regret or shame is a sign that you’re doing emotional eating rather than eating because you are truly physically hungry.

What is stress eating or emotional eating?

The brain responds to natural reward pathways to feel better. When your body is under stress it may release cortisol and other “hunger hormones,” that can increase your appetite and cravings. Cravings for sugar have been linked to neurochemical changes in your brain. These changes are similar to those that happen when people take addictive drugs.

To change this addictive habit, it’s important to first understand why you eat when you feel stress.

Why do I eat when I’m stressed?

Stress eating is caused by emotional hunger rather than physical hunger.

  • If you are physically hungry, you eat to refuel your body. You feel satisfied afterward.
  • If you are emotionally hungry, you often crave high-sugar or high-fat foods. Afterward you may ask yourself “Why did I eat that?” and feel regret and even shame.

Talk to a weight management expert who can help you pinpoint the difference between emotional and physical hunger.

How can I stop stress eating?

1. Practice mindful eating.

Resist the urge to eat when you feel stress. Try to maintain an awareness of the foods and drinks you consume. Observe how they make you feel. Pay attention to your body cues. Are you really hungry or are you eating because you feel sad, mad, bored or lonely? Learn more about mindfulness.

2. Do something else.

Take a walk, read, listen to music, work in your garden. Do something that gets you out of the environment that is creating your urge to eat. Once you can get past the initial urge to eat to reward yourself, over time your cravings may subside and not trigger you as often.

3. Toss the sugary snacks.

Empty your cupboards and refrigerator of sugary and processed snacks. Refill your shelves and pantry with healthy fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and whole grain and high protein snacks. Start with these tips for weaning off sugar.

4. Meditate to manage stress.

Instead of eating, try to take a break to meditate or do some deep breathing and relaxation.

5. Get good sleep.

Poor quality sleep can impact the chemical pathways in your brain. This can impact your hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness) hormones that can trigger overeating. Here are six other health risks of being sleep deprived.

6. Be kind to yourself.

Instead of indulging an addictive habit, reward yourself with an occasional piece of cake or ice cream cone. In fact, you can often eat what you want but be mindful of the portion size. For example, eat one square of dark chocolate. Allow the treat to slowly melt in your mouth. Be mindful about the smell, taste and texture to enhance your experience.

If you think you’re stress eating and need help to stop, contact an Allina Health Weight Management expert by calling 763-236-0904 or completing this appointment request form. They will work with you to develop plan that is uniquely suited to you and your wellness goals. 



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