Chronic stress can be a contributing factor to many lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and fatty liver.
Chronic stress is inflammatory to our body and can cause people to make poorer self-care choices, including being sedentary and overeating less wholesome foods or beverages. In time, this can lead to increased weight, blood pressure and blood sugar.
Excessive alcohol and tobacco drugs can also be abused as coping mechanisms, causing even more damage to your health over time.
What is Stress Eating?
Stress eating is a common issue. If you stress eat, it doesn’t mean you are bad, weird or something is wrong with you.
When people are stressed they may try to make themselves feel better temporarily by overeating trigger foods. Everyone’s trigger foods are different.
Common trigger foods include items such as: chips, cookies, candy, ice cream, snack cakes, leftovers, casseroles, pizza, french fries, bread, pasta, rice, mashed potatoes, soda, fast food, restaurant foods, alcohol, etc.
Our food environment makes it extremely easy to stress eat. We have so many inexpensive, unhealthy and easily consumable food options readily available around us.
Overeating these items does tend to make people feel better in the moment. Of course, over time they can cause major issues, like weight gain as well as increased blood pressure and blood sugar.
Take The Stress Eating Quiz
All questions have yes or no answers. At the end, count up the amount of “yes” answers you chose.
When you are under stress, do you:
- Eat trigger foods or less healthful foods that “comfort” you in the moment?
- Eat trigger foods or less healthful foods, even if you don’t feel physically hungry?
- Make a special trip to pick up comfort foods, if you don’t have any available?
- Find that you eat larger than normal amounts of food (which may be considered a binge or compulsive overeating)?
- Temporarily feel better while you are overeating those items?
- Make yourself uncomfortably full by eating those items?
- Tend to drink excessive amounts of alcohol (>2 drinks for males and >1 drinks for females per day)?
- Make other poor choices, including having an “all-or-nothing attitude”.
- Eat or drink alone, in secret or by hiding the true amount.
- Feel shame, guilt, sadness or anger about your behavior afterwards.
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, you may have an issue with stress eating.
What To Do Instead of Stress Eating
If you haven’t already, check out this article on 20 activities you can do instead of emotional eating for some strategies that can also help when you are prone to stress eating.
Work on Reducing Your Stress
One of the most critical strategies is to reduce your chronic stress load. Many people find their stress comes from their job, financial concerns, caregiving responsibilities, illness, lack of time or certain relationships.
Try to identify exactly what is causing your stress and try to improve it anyway you can. Work on budgeting, finding a new job, using your time wisely, delegate chores, avoid people who stress you out, avoid your stress triggers or do anything you can to try to decrease your overall stress.
For a lot of us, reducing our stress load is just not possible. Maybe in the future something will change, but for right now we cannot decrease our stress. You can grow and be able to handle stress better.
Find Coping Strategies
If you can’t decrease your stress, then find coping mechanisms you can use to help improve your perceived stress levels.
Going for a walk or doing another form of exercise can really help decrease your stress. Another idea is to do 5 minutes of deep breathing exercises. One way to get your mind in a better place is to plan your ideal future. Write out what you want to achieve in the next 12 weeks or year.
Find some non-food related hobbies that can get your mind off eating and can give you peace and contentment.
Try to Reduce Trigger Food Purchases
There are certain trigger foods or beverages that people tend to compulsively overeat when they are stressed. If you know you do this, then try to keep those trigger foods out of the house. It can be easier to stay on track, when you don’t have all the temptations readily available.
Rethink Your Routine
If you know that when you are stressed, you will go to a certain restaurant, bakery or store, then plan ahead. Try to avoid it. It’s the same with certain people, family members or friends. If they tend to cause you to struggle, you may need to limit your exposure to them.
It can be hard to break the habit of stress eating. Even though it is easy to stress eat in our modern food environment, there are ways to decrease your stress eating.
It’s like any negative habit. It takes time and effort to see improvements. If you work at it, you will see progress over time. You may still have occasions where you fall into bad habits. Keep trying and you will find that those compulsions can decrease in time.