Has Stress Eating Become A Habit?

Has stress eating become a habit? Is it hard to stop stress eating once you start? I’ll bet you aren’t reaching for carrots!

According to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, just a few bites of a sweet treat may leave you yearning for more foods packed with sugar and fat.

Drexel University professor, Evan Forman, Ph.D. conducted a study showing that when participants savored one chocolate truffle, they ended up craving unhealthy foods, such as pizza, potato chips, and ice cream.

“Sampling decadent foods seemed to set off an unconscious urge to overindulge,” Dr. Forman explained. Knowing this fact can help you plan for the unintended consequences of stress eating.

Sugar has powerful biological and psychological effects on us – we are both physiologically and psychologically set up to crave sweets. The majority of our taste buds detect sweetness.

You automatically reach for sweets when you are stressed or tired because it has an immediate calming effect. When the taste buds register sugar, they release endorphins, and tell the body to release serotonin, the “feel good” chemical. Sugar breaks down in the metabolism into alcohol.  Eat enough sugar, and you get a hangover.

Studies have shown that your body’s dopamine levels increase when eating sweets. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that raises your body’s blood sugar levels. The surge of dopamine combined with serotonin is where the health problems come into play. In order to balance insulin levels, the body releases hormones that increase inflammation. This inflammation may become chronic, which plays a role in serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

The immediate effect you see is the hormonal swings that affect your moods. The more sugar you consume, the higher you feel and the harder you crash. You keep wanting more to feel better, which just feeds the cycle.

Learned associations play a huge role too. I remember when my daughter was young. They gave out lollipops at the bank and the doctor’s office. Even the dentist offered sugar-free gum! Friends and family weren’t much better. It seemed like everyone wanted to give this kid sweets!

The thing to realize is that everyone has stress, and comfort is a normal human need. There is nothing wrong with occasionally turning to sweets for some comfort. The problem comes when stress eating becomes a way of life.

If your relationships and/or career are unsatisfying, then you are more likely to reach for food under stress. Beth Reardon, an integrative nutritionist at Duke Medical Center, says that you can get the same benefits from a hug as you do from a doughnut. The best part about hugs is they contain zero calories and no trans fat!

There are many ways to tone down your cravings for sweets, and thus avoid negative health consequences.

1) Try to avoid purchasing sweets at the store. It will be less tempting for you at home, if you don’t let them ambush you while shopping!

2) Increase exercising and getting more sunlight. Exercise elevates dopamine, and sunlight boosts serotonin.

3) Your taste buds get accustomed to sweets, so get them liking other tastes. Start off with adding some strong spices, and savor, savor, savor!

4) Learn to appreciate what food tastes like and what it smells like. You will get more pleasure and less cravings, and

5) Try Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). It’s a stress relief tool that can help you relax, reduce cravings and reduce stress. With less stress to begin with, there’s less need to reach for comfort food.

More stop stress eating techniques

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Psychologist, Master Certified Coach and Certified EFT Practitioner. She is one of the world’s leading experts in using Emotional Freedom Techniques to help people lose weight without dieting, stop binge eating, and reduce anxiety and stress. She is the author of 4 Books on Emotional Freedom Techniques, the EFT Tips Newsletter, the Binge Eating Teleseminar and the EFT Weight Loss CD. Carol has a thriving coaching practice and is passionate about helping others succeed.

6 thoughts on “Has Stress Eating Become A Habit?

  1. Hi Carol,

    This article was very pertinent and oh so right. A great reminder for me. I was having a very productive day yesterday and went to visit my girfriend’s son. I ADORE him. Well, there were kids cookies and treats left over from his birthday party. Little had i known. I decided i would eat a few. That evening, after a networking event…all i could THINK about was cookies. I wanted cookies, jujubes, licorise, chips, anything sweet or crunchy. As luck would have it, all snack shops were closed as i was in the subway later than 11:00. Had i had any of that in the house when i arrived home, i would have consumed it faster than humanly possible. This article reminded me of the addictive and physiological effects that eating sweets really has. Thank-you for providing these medical findings and the things we can do to alleviate and circumvent habits that don’t serve us.

    • Hi Linda – oh, so true! I think it has been shown that most overeating happens in social situations (although binging typically happens in isolation, when no one is looking!) Many people eat things at parties that they would never serve at home, and like you said, this just fuels the urge for sweets. I think it’s ok to choose to indulge as long as you know your patterns, and are mentally prepared in case you are fighting off urges later on.

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  3. Hi Carol,
    This is a great question. I do think for me stress eating is a habit. I notice certain triggers – I can go from not thinking about food at all to having to have something right now just by walking down the stairs. And at hormonal times – no contest.

    • I think this is true, Val. And the problem of stress eating is very insidious because of it. The more you can track your triggers and really be aware of them, the easier it is. Thanks for your comment. Carol

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