Are you eating your stress?

Author: Hayley Alexander

“The other day I tried syncing my Google Calendar with my laptop. Again. It's never worked for me, no matter how many experts I've paid to try to fix it. And it didn't work this time, either. But just in case, I gave my laptop a good whack like they used to do with old TV sets. Spoiler... it didn't help.


For a lot of people that's kind of what stress eating is like. It's a nice release in the moment. But chances are it's not actually helping the situation... or your nutrition goals.”


Highlighting the futility of self-sabotage, the above excerpt is from a blog written by the CEO of Gold Medal Bodies Fitness, Andy Fosset, whom without doubt, hits the nail on the head. But the question is why we tend to “eat our stress”, or is it just something we can’t help doing?


Stress triggers, hormones and hunger


Harvard Health experts suggest that there is a link between stress, hormones and appetite. In the short term, “stress can shut down the appetite” due to the body producing more adrenaline, which triggers the body’s flight or fight responses. However, if the stress persists, then “the adrenal glands release cortisol,” which has the opposite effect and can “motivate hunger” or induce cravings for comfort foods. 


A rather cheeky study by British researchers published in the journal of Psychosomatic Medicine even found that stress might influence the food choices we make. 


Testing “the effects of hunger on physiology, performance, and mood,” the study involved a group of volunteers, of which a select few – aka the “stressed group” were tasked with preparing four-minute speech, which they were told would be filmed after lunch. 


Those in the “stressed group” showed a predictable increase in blood pressure and heart rate based on measurements taken before and after the instruction was given. However, what was more interesting was that they ate mostly the high fat and sweet foods that were on offer during the lunch, compared to those in the “control group”, who were not instructed to make a speech. 


For the record, no speeches were in fact filmed! 


From the dietitian’s mouth


Lila Bruk, a Johannesburg based dietitian, says “those who are the victims [of stress eating] are usually the ones who are trying to lose weight,” and that this struggle becomes a negative feedback cycle. In other words, the more you stress about losing weight, the harder it is not to think about food and until you get that satisfaction from eating, the stress only intensifies the craving. 


Sharing a few tips for “beating stress eating,” Bruk suggests preparing healthy snacks and meals in advance so that when you are stressed and hungry, at least you can make better choices. She also says that practicing “the art of distraction” may be helpful too, for example, “say to yourself, well I’m going to give myself 10 minutes and see if I still want that doughnut. Then do something else to take your mind off it.”


In addition, the Harvard experts encourage finding better ways to self-manage your stress, such as meditation and exercise, as well as getting social support from family and friends.


See what works for you, or get professional support, but please, if anything, don’t whack yourself like an old TV set! 




© 2020. All rights reserved.  |  Last updated: 15 • 02 • 2021