I eat cause I’m stressed and I’m stressed cause I eat
What a darned paradox. Right?
It’s a real life catch-22. A modern-day Jekyll and Hyde. For those unfamiliar, the story (novel) of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was about one man with two personalities – one good and one bad. Dr. Jekyll was the good guy and Mr. Hyde was the bad fellow.
Mr. Hyde is out of control
When it comes to stress-eating or reverting to comfort foods, most of us have had our own Jekyll and Hyde experiences.
For example, you look into an empty family sized bag of chips sitting in your lap and wonder “who just ate that entire bag?” Of course, it was you (or Mr. Hyde). A few people mastered their villainous Mr. Hyde who eats what he wants when stressed. Unfortunately, most people’s Mr. Hyde is out of control.
Stress-eating, eating out of control, and regularly indulging in comfort foods are totally perplexing to the average person. It’s a mystery. The result is the average person’s self-image and self-esteem is damaged, not to mention their health. The health consequences of stress-eating are wide and varied, including obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.
The good ole days
Our ancestors were much more relaxed than we are.
When they got stressed, it was usually because they were hunting or being hunted. Their bodies’ natural stress response was invaluable in protecting them from danger and keeping them fed.
Let’s flash forward to modern times.
We don’t have to hunt or kill or pray. Also, most of us don’t have to run away from predators. We’ve made our neighborhoods, cities, and communities “people friendly” or at least safe from dangerous animals. The stress we experience today is causing us to eat unnecessarily, gain fat (especially belly fat), and be unhealthy.
So, let’s explore what’s going on inside your body that’s making you eat because you’re stressed and then setting up the vicious cycle.
Your body’s response
The fact is that stress and your body’s response to stress are to blame for the diabolical cycle of stress eating.
Yep, your own body is doing it to you…but with good intentions. When you experience a lot of stress, your body goes into survival mode. It does what any good respecting “body” does – it protects you whether you want it to or not. It’s your real-life bodyguard. You don’t have to say anything – your bodyguard just jumps in and punches danger in the face.
How does your body react to ALL types of stress?
- Increased alertness, anxiety, and caution. Those are all great qualities of a good protector, guardian, or bodyguard.
- Constriction of blood vessels and increased blood flow to your muscles – legs, arms, etc. Your body is preparing for war or to run like hell!
- Temporary shift in metabolism. This is like fueling up your car before a road trip. Your body is loading up with energy to fight the battle or run away from danger.
- Dump cortisol into your blood stream. What the heck does cortisol have to do with protection? It’s a vital hormone used to move fat to your body’s ideal area to be burned for fuel. Again, your body (guardian) is ready to go to war on your behalf.
- Triggers the craving to eat in order to provide as much energy possible for fight or flight. Your body can’t tell the difference from extreme stress caused by work or life threatening stress.
- Creates a craving for high-calorie, energy dense foods (sugar) to quickly convert into energy to your muscle in preparation of fleeing or going to battle.
Again, your body does not know the difference between the stress you might experience at work and life threatening danger. When you’re not really fighting or fleeing, then all of that excess food you’ve consumed (that’s not being used) is being stored as fat.
Eating for pleasure
Not only does stress trigger the demand for you to eat, but it also demands relief from the stress. After all, the body doesn’t like being stressed all day.
So, the typical person reaches for energy-dense, calorie-rich, and sugary foods. The best of both worlds. The body gets a mega dose of energy (even though it doesn’t’ need it) and you stimulate your brain and taste buds with a bit of pleasure in the form of chocolate, ice cream, sugar, or whatever you reach for under stress.
The problem with eating pleasure or comfort foods is they lack nutrition but are loaded in sugar. Sugar spikes are created which make you feel good for a short time and then they drop you. When the rush is gone, you feel tired and not so good. So what do you do? You eat some more. Not only are you stressed and not dealing with the real issue, but now you’re on a nonstop rollercoaster of highs and lows created by eating energy –dense foods packed with carbs and sugar.
The result is not only do you eat because you’re stressed, but you also are stressed because you eat.
More importantly, you keep eating unnecessarily and stress-eating doesn’t do you any good. It’s only a temporary relief for the stress; therefore, you’re going to need another “fix.” Also, you don’t truly need the energy or calories; therefore, you get fat – especially in the belly region.
And no, it’s not gambling. Learning to manage and relieve stress properly is probably the best solution. Check out these 7 simple things you can do.
It breaks the vicious cycle by getting to the root of the problem. It diffuses the situation. There are several ways to shut off and cope with stress.
- Practicing Yoga
- Taking Hot Showers or Baths
- Getting 8 Hours of Sleep
- Changing Careers
- Possibly Changing Relationships
The above 7 suggestions definitely work; however, feel free to try other healthy stress techniques and practices. The only way to stop the vicious cycle of stress eating is to (and no, it’s not drinking) pull it up by its roots. Eating to relieve stress just makes matters worst and creates a vicious cycle that makes you more stressed, fatter, and unhealthy.
And that’s the truth ya dig!
Lets end this with a confession. My stress eating go to food is Almond butter. I know what you’re thinking. “Dude, that’s f-ing good for you.” Yeah, but not if you eat the entire jar.
What’s your go-to “stress” food?