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Ask Dr. Nandi: Here's why you stress eat and how to stop doing it

Posted at 5:55 PM, Aug 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-04 13:03:32-04

Are you someone who reaches for junk food after a tough work deadline, an argument with a loved one or when life’s to-do list gets a little overwhelming?  

You’re not alone, as the American Psychological Association found that almost 40% of adults say they eat junk food when their stress levels rise.  

We‘ve all heard that stress is bad for the body, but how you handle the stress in your life can be just as bad.  I get it as there’s a reason why we call it “comfort food”.  

Now when we have stress in our life, our bodies produce more of the hormone cortisol.  And this can lead directly to hunger as cortisol can increase your appetite and cause you to crave sugary, salty and fatty foods.  

But eating them can lead to an unending cycle as processed junk food can briefly perk you up and then make you feel worse which might lead you to reach for more.  And on top of all that, your cortisol will raise even more.

So to help you get stress eating under control and avoid unnecessary pounds, here are my prescriptions:

  1. When you’re stressed and are ready to dive at the nearest junk food, ask yourself, am I really hungry? When people are truly hungry they often have a growling stomach, mild headache, and low energy.  
  2. Instead of reaching for food, try distracting yourself.  Take a break, get outside for some fresh air, take a short walk, do some stretches, call a friend, or try mediation.  
  3. If you really need something to eat, reach for healthy alternatives.  Choose stress-fighting foods like dark chocolate, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and veggies.  
  4. Also, try drinking fluids as thirst is often confused with hunger.  Have a large glass of water or you can drink green tea, matcha tea, and white tea as they contain L-theanine.  And this amino acid just may help to reduce your stress levels.

Now emotional eating can also happen when you have an emotional need that’s not being fulfilled. So it’s best to find the root cause of any underlying issues, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.  

Your family doctor is a great place to start as they’ll have plenty of advice on how to tackle stress and help you get a hold of your eating habits.