Updated: Aug 8
Stress is a common part of our lives, but the way we choose to respond to stressful situations is what set us apart. We’re sure you’ve come across the term ‘stress-eater’ being used in high pressure situations to describe an individual who tends to use food to cope with their feelings.
Before we get a little technical and look closely at the interrelation between stress and eating behaviour, let’s take a moment to understand the meaning of stress. Stress, as defined by UNICEF, is feeling under pressure, overwhelmed, and in response to that, an inability to cope with the situation at hand. According to research, acute stress is associated with loss of appetite, and therefore a marked reduction in body weight; and chronic stress. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is observed to cause excessive consumption of food and obesity as well. It’s interesting to note just how simple the relationship is between stress and overeating, isn’t it?
When stress is at its peak, more of our physical and mental resources get used up, therefore, our mind feels the urge to replenish all these resources by eating more than what is needed. You may have noticed that you crave food that is high in sugar, salt, and fats when you’re feeling low emotionally. The sugar rush or simply the spike in energy you experience thereafter, helps you bounce back. This association becomes a memory and this memory gets strengthened over time. So much so that the next time you feel stressed, you crave eating these so-called comfort foods.
Here are a couple of ways to beat this habit:
1. A nutrient-rich balanced diet: You can manage the way you respond to stress by substituting unhealthy foods with dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, and herbal teas in your favorite flavors. All it takes to tip your diet in the right direction is staying mindful of what, how much, and when you eat.
2. Meditation: Calming your nerves down, and more importantly, calming your mind can enable you to bring awareness to your breath. Meditation comes in different forms and one of them is being mindful of food choices. Doing away with technology while eating is a great way to focus your attention on every morsel that is being ingested. When you spend time consciously thinking about the food you're consuming and evoking your senses into this process, you’re likely to be satiated sooner than when you eat food while watching Netflix!
3. Exercise: It’s fascinating to know the multi-faceted relationship between exercise and stress management. Exercise regulates the release of endorphins, stress hormones, improved sleep and more importantly getting it into rhythm. It also improves self-esteem and confidence and fosters social support.
4. Vitamin N (Nature): Have you been lured by the sheer beauty and glory of nature? Spending time with/in nature helps keep your physical and mental health well-being in check. An hour in the garden boosts physical activity, stimulates your senses and enhances immune function. As much as venturing out into nature is important, it is also vital that you engage in this activity regularly.
What one may perceive as difficulties in the office, trouble within relationships, and making ends meet on the family front, might mean developing coping or fighting mechanisms for your immune, digestive, and nervous systems. But if you are dealing with exaggerated and chronic stress levels, we do believe that seeking professional help is necessary.