By Kay Spears, Nutritionist and Stephanie Ecke, Trauma/Addiction Therapist
Why do we eat all the wrong foods when we’re stressed?
The answer to this question can be tricky. First, we’ll discuss the physical aspects of stress eating, followed by the emotional aspects.
You need to know that serotonin plays a huge role in stress eating. Serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters in the brain. Nutritionists have testing available to help identify serotonin levels and when necessary, they will build a nutrition program to aid in adjusting those levels.
Serotonin is responsible for our overall sense of well-being. 90% of serotonin is manufactured in the gut. When we are stressed, the serotonin levels in the gut are depleted. When that happens, we actually crave foods that will bring our serotonin levels back up.
These foods are called our comfort foods. Examples are pizza, cookies, pies, hamburgers and french fries. These foods are simple carbohydrates — they are high in refined sugars. What we accomplish when we stress eat is to temporarily increase serotonin levels. The key word here is ‘temporarily’. Serotonin will go back down and thus, we enter into a vicious cycle.
We are always going to have stress in our lives, so it’s important to learn how to modify our stress levels with lifestyle changes.
Stress eating means we are eating to relieve stress and anxiety when we aren’t really physically hungry. Some people can actually become “addicted” to sugar and/or refined foods. Due to a number of reasons, their bodies become very sensitized to simple carbohydrates and their mood altering effects.
There are some natural ways to modify stress levels that will not add inches to your waistline:
- Go for a brisk walk
- Swim (in fact, movement of any kind helps)
- Write your feelings down
- Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby
If you’ve tried these solutions and you’re still stress eating, perhaps there’s a deeper cause. Emotional eating is often triggered by negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or shame. Hidden self-sabotaging thoughts can also be the cause, such as “Nothing calms me down when I’m upset” or “When I’m upset, I deserve to eat.” A counselor can help you discover the root of your stress eating and help you heal.
Of course, the ultimate stress relief of all comes from developing a relationship with God. When we truly experience His powerful love for us, we can rest in His presence and allow Him to bring us that peace that passes understanding.you’ve tried these solutions and you’re still stress eating, perhaps there’s a deeper cause. A counselor, a nutritionist — or perhaps both — can help you discover the root of the stress eating and help you heal.
Of course, the ultimate stress relief of all comes from developing a relationship with God. When we truly experience His powerful love for us, we can rest in His presence and allow Him to bring us that peace that passes understanding.