Stress Eating: Why It Happens & How to Stop

10/09/2020 | 3 min. read

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Have you ever found yourself in the kitchen staring at the snacks in the fridge, not because you’re hungry but because you’re stressed and looking for a way to placate your emotions?

With our busy lives, a 24-hour news cycle that’s keeping us all on edge, and stressful world events, we’re facing more pressures than ever before. For many people, the “drug” of choice for managing our emotions is food.

Why Stress Drives Us to Overeat

There are real physical reasons for stress eating. When you’re stressed, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which increases your appetite, so your body is fueled and ready to deal with the stressor—such as fleeing from a dangerous situation. When you’re chronically stressed, your cortisol levels can remain elevated, affecting your appetite.

Stress can also increase your cravings for sugary treats and simple carbohydrates, both of which lift your levels of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. But the boost is only temporary. As soon as your blood sugar and serotonin levels return to normal, your energy level and mood dips—which only sets in motion the desire to eat more “comfort foods.” In the final analysis, you feel bad, both emotionally and physically.

How to Avoid Stress Eating

  • Let go of perfection. Many of us put more stress on ourselves than those around us do, causing powerful internal stress that can leave you reaching for carbohydrates to help you cope. Instead, treat yourself as you would a good friend and accept yourself just as you are.
  • Surround yourself with support. Whether it’s family, friends, or even a loving pet, spending time with those who care about you makes it easier to deal with daily stressors and avoid stress eating. Plus, the positive emotions we experience in these situations lifts our mood. At the same time, it’s important to limit your contact with people who are sharply critical of you since they’ll only cause more stress and overeating.
  • Cultivate beauty and calm in your life. Treat yourself well. Buy fresh flowers if they please you. Enjoy soothing music. Allow yourself some time to “just be.”
  • Make time for activities that release stress. Some of the most powerful stress relievers include aerobic exercise like walking, acupuncture, massage, yoga, and meditation.
  • Get grounded. Walking barefoot on Mother Earth is not only free but has an enormous balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system.
  • Choose your healthcare providers wisely. Select physicians who listen, answer all your questions, and take the time to explain your treatment options. If your healthcare provider rushes you and doesn’t empower your participation in your healthcare, seek out another doctor.
  • Take ashwagandha. One of the best ways to break the stress-eating cycle is with the herbal extract ashwagandha. It helps to stabilize and support your body’s stress-feedback loop and balance your body’s cortisol levels—reducing tension and brightening your mood, making it easier to avoid stress eating.
  • Get enough sleep. If you find yourself feeling hungrier when you’re tired, it’s not your imagination. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body releases more of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and less of the satiety hormone leptin—both of which signal your desire to eat. Plus, if you’re fatigued, you’re more likely to reach for sugary foods and carbohydrates. The solution? Make sleep a priority.
  • Above all, learn to listen to and trust your own intuition. No one knows you and your needs better than you do.
Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Meet Dr. Stephen Sinatra

Dr. Stephen Sinatra is a highly respected and sought-after cardiologist and nutritionist with more than 30 years of clinical practice, research, and study. His integrative approach to heart health focuses on reducing inflammation in the body and maximizing the heart's ability to produce and use energy.

More About Dr. Stephen Sinatra