Stress eating also called emotional eating—or just “eating as per your feelings”—is pretty much what it sounds like: eating because you’re stressed, not because you’re hungry.
In simple words, you eat just to get distracted from your emotions or out of your anxiety not because you are hungry or your body needs nutrition.
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Is overeating similar to stress eating?
No, overeating simply refers to the phenomenon of eating more than necessity. But stress eating is a special type of overeating, that a person does when he/she is stressed out.
Why people tend to eat more when they’re stressed?
High cortisol levels: Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not let up, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat.
Cravings: High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
How to know if you are suffering from stress eating?
When you have worked to do (studies/exams), you reach out for food subconsciously.
You eat when you feel sad / annoyed / disappointed / angry / lonely/ empty / anxious/ tired / bored. It’s a reaction so subconsciously embedded that you don’t even think about it. You just automatically reach out for food whenever you experience those emotions.
When you feel down, you seek out “comfort food”. You bury yourself in food like ice cream, cake, chocolate, and cookies, even though they are absolute junk and have zero nutritional value.
You are emotionally dependent on food, relying on it for happiness. You derive positive emotions from eating, even though it’s nothing more than a neutral activity to help you live, just like breathing, drinking water, and passing waste.
You love food. You love to eat. When you’re not eating, you can’t help but think about food. You long and crave for it.
You use emotionally charged words like “sinful”, “decadent”, “guilt-ridden”, “love”, “lust”, “indulgent”, “enticing”, “craving”, “tempting”, etc, to describe your food even though food is a non-living thing, incapable of feelings nor returning your love/hate.
Sometimes, you get urges to eat a certain food, which you can’t explain yourself. And it’s not even that you’re hungry. It’s just a craving which you must satisfy, else you’ll feel unhappy for the day.
Once you are aware that you are suffering from stress eating, there are basically two ways by which you can reduce stress eating or the impact of stress eating.
1-Managing stress levels with different coping skills
People will advise you to manage your stress level i.e. to lower your stress levels but this advice is one of the most impractical advice as stress is an integral part of life no one can completely remove stress from his/her life. An individual normally gets a lot of stress in his or her life which is quite normal.
Note- Over-stressing is dangerous and should be removed completely.
The only thing we can simply change is coping skills. There are different types of coping skills and can be categorized into healthy and unhealthy. Stress eating can be categorized into unhealthy coping skills as it causes a lot of health problems. One should always go for healthy coping skills such as exercises, yoga, deep breathing, etc.
So don’t beat yourself up over eating your feelings this time. But next time, try a deep breathing exercise, write in a journal, or do some yoga instead. The more coping skills you have in your stress management toolbox, the more balanced you’ll be—and health is all about balance.
2- Your Food Habits
Food is something we need to survive. It provides nutrients that keep us alive and healthy. There’s nothing wrong in consuming tasty food; food should be something we enjoy, not something we feel guilty about.
But sometimes our relationship with food becomes unhealthy due to our food habits. We start to see food as a solution to all our problems—or we see it as an enemy that is harming us. There are a few things we must do to make our relationship with food a healthy one.
Avoid your emotions of guilt and shame. Shame is an emotion that lets us know when we’re doing something socially unacceptable. But eating habits are no one else’s concern! If yours eating manners aren’t lining up with your own goals, you can realize that and make adjustments without feeling bad or embarrassed about it.
Have vigilance to what your body is advising you. Learn to recognize the distinction between feeling hungry vs. wanting to eat to change your emotional state. If you’re having a difficult time telling the difference, try eating something filling and then wait a little while. If the drive to eat doesn’t go away, it might be more about emotion than hunger.
Learn to enjoy more nutritious foods. That might sound difficult, but there are lots of tasty foods that are also good for you. And they’re usually more filling than junk food, so you end up eating less and feeling more satisfied—without having to think about the amount you’re eating at all.
If your relationship with food gets out of control, it can lead to an eating disorder. Eating disorders are the deadliest type of mental illness, and they can be difficult to treat. So try to identify before they become serious in severe for your health and as soon as you find the mouth try to change your habits through the above-mentioned techniques.