There is no doubt that given the current climate, stress levels are running high. We are all dealing with a revolving door of changes in response to COVID-19, whether it be with school, work, or the lack thereof. Stress only worsens the matter because it truly can negatively impact all aspects of life, including the foods we crave and habits we form, whether you know it or not!
Enter the issue of stress eating. Simply put, stress eating is “the act of eating when feeling stressed and seeking comfort,” says Dalina Soto, R.D.N., founder of Nutritiously Yours.
“Biochemically, stress eating is when your body is eating because of the increase in cortisol (the stress-response hormone),” says Lisa Mastela, R.D., M.P.H., founder of Bumpin’ Blends, a pre-made smoothie company. “Cortisol triggers cravings for pleasure, or for sweet or salty indulgent foods.“
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, which triggers the release of glucose (aka quickly accessible energy that’s stored in your body).
You could point to the brain’s need for feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine (one of the chemicals responsible for your workout high). This is one of the reasons you may turn to food in times of stress or emotional discomfort: Eating induces the release of dopamine, which soothes you and makes you feel happy, she explains.
In stressful situations we look to food to comfort us or give us a sense of control in times where we really don’t have control over stressful elements. Stress eating can be a mindless habit, but it is possible to break the cycle!
Take the time to go through the 4 P’s:
- Pause. Take a second to identify the type of hunger you’re experiencing.
- Pry. Reflect, and learn what specific emotion is trying to come up. Fear? Frustration? Anger? Sadness? Rejection? Loneliness? Anxiety?
- Pick. This is about choice; really deciding if eating is the best thing for you in that particular moment.
- Persevere. Whatever that choice was, move on — even if you chose to eat or snack.
While it’s important to understand that stress eating is totally normal, recognize that you can control your food choices. If you’re able to identify your triggers, disconnect from and ease stress when it arises, your stress eating response will likely decrease or even completely dissipate.