Ask Dr. Nandi: Can eating ever really relieve stress?

Posted at 6:35 PM, Aug 25, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-25 18:35:21-04

We all have bad days where we reach for our favorite junk food to soothe our stress. But can eating ever provide relief?

When you reach for your favorite comfort food after a tough day, we call this emotional eating. Unless your scarfing down a tray of carrots and celery, it’s not a good way to manage negative emotions like stress, sadness or anger. 

That pint of ice-cream or slice of cake can lift your mood, but it’s only temporary and often followed by feelings of shame, guilt and nausea.

Occasionally engaging in stress eating is not necessarily a bad thing.  But if you rely on food as a coping mechanism, you could be stuck in an unhealthy eating cycle.

You need to learn other ways to deal with stress, so here are my prescriptions:

  • Take a moment to think and tune into your body.  Is the hunger physical or emotional?  Are you upset or is your stomach rumbling?
  • When away from home, pack nutritious snacks like protein bars and fruit.  And don’t engage in unconscious eating.  Be very mindful and take the time to enjoy your food.
  • To help manage stress in your life, try meditation, deep breathing or yoga.  Going for a walk and chatting with a friend are other great ways to relieve tension.
  • Accept that fact that life is not perfect, you will experience difficult feelings.  Look for other ways to reward yourself besides food.

Food can have addictive qualities for some people.  Sugars and fats generate soothing effects because they release opioids in our brains similar to the active ingredients in narcotics like cocaine. 

For those people, you’ll need to learn to tolerate difficult emotions and not turn to food.  Talking to your doctor or seeking counseling can also help you develop alternative habits to cope with emotional stress.