Stress eating, or emotional eating, is a problem for more than 38% of Americans and that number is on the rise. Source: Harvard Health School
Stressful, sad, and uncomfortable experiences are going to happen, but you absolutely should not try to soothe those emotions with food. Doing so can result in the obvious weight gain and not so obvious mental illnesses like depression, along with a host of other associated health problems such obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and many types of cancer.
People who struggle with stress eating report that they reach for comfort food when they experience sadness, feel lonely or dejected, need comfort, or are anxious and tired, and when they are trying to avoid conflict.
The sad truth about stress eating (and believe me, I’ve been there too) is that grabbing that tub of sweet ice cream, or bag of salty, oily chips are feeding a problem that won’t go away. Not only that, but eating those foods actually perpetuates a pattern of the brain thinking those foods are helping when in actuality they are not.
Here is why: The more fattening, salty, or sweet the food is, the more of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine is released. Dopamine triggers the reward center in our brain, causing us to crave those foods for “comfort” and leads to an addiction to the food in order to continue to experience pleasure.
There is a lot of science behind dopamine and serotonin, but for now, you need to know that they are chemical neurotransmitters that help regulate mood, emotions, sleep, motivation, desire, cravings, cognition, metabolism, hormonal activity, and movement.
Signs of Stress Eating: Is This You?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, you may be stress eating:
- Do you eat because there’s nothing else to do?
- Does eating make you feel happy when you’re down?
- Does eating take your focus and worry away from your problems?
- Do you often feel guilty or ashamed after eating?
- Do you use food as a reward?
- Do you try to find a place to eat alone, in your house or car?
- Do you crave a specific food when you are depressed?
- Do you ever eat something without realizing that you’re even doing it?
Instead of putting all the pressure on ourselves to control our cravings (followed by guilt and shame when we fail to win against a powerful neurotransmitter rush), what if we instead solve the issue by effectively addressing your stress response.
Why Chronic Stress Leads to Stress Eating
So, we know that cortisol and adrenaline are behind your desire to reach for a candy bar every time you feel lonely or sad.
Once you eat your fill of that fat-laden-sugar-filled treat, it may seem to counteract your stress, but you and I both know that it’s only temporary.
After that release of sugar into your bloodstream there’s the resulting self-loathing and guilt which then messes with your happiness and mental health, and wouldn’t you know it… the stress trigger is still there waiting for you.
Stress eating is such a challenging habit to break. Stress eating knowingly trades better health and energy for the pleasure of the moment, the excitement of sneaking a treat, or a rush of “relief.” It can feel like the foods have more control than we do.
Waiting and hoping that your stress eating will go away on its own, will never get you where you want to go either.
If you’re serious about overcoming your stress eating, then read my new book, Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health. The book is a personalized program based on your unique stress types so that you can optimize your cortisol and adrenaline levels to calm anxiety, boost energy, and beat burnout.
In the book, I talk about how stress causes cortisol levels to fluctuate too high or too low. With that, dopamine levels can decrease and ghrelin, our hunger hormone, goes up. This sets us up for wanting to eat, and in particular foods that make us feel better temporarily.
Before you go any further, I want you to take a moment to identify your stress type.
Your Stress Type: The First Step Out of Stress Eating
Understanding your stress type and the corresponding stress recovery protocol will help you master your stress and become resilient to the triggers of stress eating.
The important thing to know is that we don’t all respond to stress in the same way. Some of us will have higher cortisol levels, while others will have low. Some will have high dopamine and adrenaline, and for others, the levels drop.
To truly and effectively address your stress, and rebalance your cortisol, dopamine, and more, we need to know your current levels of these hormones and neurotransmitters. That is what I refer to as your stress type. From there, I can guide you to rebalance them using nutrients and herbs so that you’re not reaching for a food (or caffeine for that matter) for a quick fix.
To learn more, check out a recent podcast episode of mine: Know Your Stress Type with Dr. Doni (Episode 107).
TAKE THE FREE STRESS QUIZ TO FIND OUT YOUR STRESS TYPE:
Stress Eating May Be a Sign of Chronic Stress
The unknown is always a stress. That’s why the psychological models of stress always talk about food, water, sleep, shelter, and love as essential needs. If they’re not met, we are most certainly stressed. We must find ways to support ourselves through the stressful situations we can’t control. Once we can rise above the stress, or even surf the continual waves of stress, we can see that changes are an opportunity for us to choose differently.
Chronic stress is even more challenging. It’s a feeling of pressure and a sense of being overwhelmed for a long period of time. There is help, so don’t think you have to live like this.
To me it starts by actually measuring your cortisol levels at four different times of day, and your dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin levels.
These are not tests offered at a standard doctor’s appointment, nor are they covered by insurance. And yet, from my clinical experience and research, they are essential for turning around our health and winning back control of our own bodies.
Now is probably the right moment to bring up the Gut-Brain Axis. It’s another important concept from the Master Your Stress book because it is highly likely that your stress eating is also wreaking havoc with your digestive system, and your digestion may actually be perpetuating the situation. You know, acid reflux, heartburn, food sensitivities, gas, bloating, gall stones, and even fatty liver disease. These conditions are associated with stress, not digesting food well, leaky gut and dysbiosis (overgrowth of bacteria).
Gut bacteria are greatly affected by stress (and certainly, stress eating), both past and present, and both emotional and physical stress. Once out of balance due to stress, the imbalanced bacteria cause us to crave the foods that feed them – sugar, carbs and starches.
So you see, it can literally feel and be that you are trapped in a perpetual pattern of eating the foods that make everything worse. Believe me, I learned by being in it myself, and by getting out of it. And that’s why I feel so passionate about sharing what works with you.
The scary truth is that we should all be talking about our gut, even when it may not seem like it’s necessary. This is because of a simple fact:We all experience stress. Therefore, we all are at risk of imbalanced gut bacteria, leaky gut, and inflammation. Ultimately making it impossible for our digestive system to perform at its best 24/7.
Tackle your stress and overeating by signing up for the Stress Warrior™ Program.
In the SWP, I teach you to understand how stress affects you uniquely, and give you access to do the tests I mentioned – cortisol at four times of day, dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. You can also test for leaky gut and dysbiosis. Then I guide you to understand what your results mean and how to get it all back on track again.
If you’d like to find out more about my Stress Recovery Protocol and the SWP, join me for a FREE Burnout Recovery Masterclass.
I Teach My Patients: Stress Is a Choice
Despite the stress you’re under, it’s possible to take a deep breath, stand back, look around, and realize that we are the ones who choose to be the hamster on the hamster wheel.
As much as it may seem that you’re destined to experience burnout based on the relationships, jobs, commitments, deadlines, and beliefs you hold in a modern, busy world, your current situation isn’t your only option. To read more: The Truth About Stress.
6 Tips to Help You Avoid Stress Eating
- Choose protein! I find this helps me to break the stress eating spiral. Anytime I feel like I go ahead and eat something sweet or salty, I tell myself that I also need to eat protein at that same time. Protein balanced blood sugar levels and provides calories from a non-carb source, counteracting the binge hormone roller coaster.
- Providing service, or doing something kind, for someone is the calorie-free way for you to get the boost of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin you’re craving.
- Meditation – taking time to quietly sit and think through why you are choosing food before your mental and physical health can strengthen your resolve to choose other healthy options. I love meditating while burning this lovely, new Organic Resiliency Candle.
- Distract yourself with movement. Exercise is a far better coping mechanism than stress eating. Not only does it send happy, stress-fighting chemicals to your brain, but it also helps you become fitter and more confident in the process.
- Consider adding sleep, calming, and adrenal support nutrients to your daily routine. You will feel much better for it.
- Direct your focus through journaling or writing out a Self C.A.R.E schedule so that you can work on your own stress recovery. I have a new journal that you can use exactly for this purpose!
I want to mention that if you know you have experienced trauma in your lifetime, and find that triggers related to that trauma are leading you to food for comfort, then I definitely recommend working with a professional who specializes in helping you to resolve the trauma so that you can be set free from this pattern.
Life can be hard, but it shouldn’t feel impossible with food as your only pick-me-up. It’s also important to acknowledge that stress is not going away. In fact, stress serves an important purpose in our lives.
So, now the choice is yours. Learn how to master and recover from the stress in your life so that you can say goodbye to stress eating as a coping mechanism once and for all.
The tools are here.
17th May 2022
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