Dealing with Stress and Emotional Eating
Ridhi Golechha

Ridhi Golechha

May 17Mental health

Dealing with Stress and Emotional Eating

Today, we will talk about ‘stress eating’ and ‘stress starvation’

Although we tend to hear about the former more often, however, both are equally problematic. I can say, with personal experience, that undereating or starvation can sometimes have more negative impacts on your body. Stress and anxiety can amplify the emotional and psychological changes in the body, hence affecting your digestive system.

stress emotional eating

Overeating or Stress Eating 

Stress eating or emotional eating implies eating in response to any emotion, be it positive or negative. It is also often referred to as a form of disordered eating because one tends to lose sight of why and how much they eat because emotional outbursts overpower the natural hunger cues that our body gives out.

There are a number of causes of stress eating but as proven by researchers, it is often the role of ghrelin which is known as the “hunger hormone.” In most cases, when someone is stressed or overwhelmed, this hormone tends to instil a drive for sugary and fatty foods as they help dampen the stress-related emotions. It causes a person to eat excessively beyond their capacity in times of emotional or mental turmoil, or in some cases, causes a person to lose their appetite.

When you’re looking to destress, more often than not, the first thing that comes to mind is comfort food. Stress triggers the release of the hormone cortisol in our body. Cortisol is called “the stress hormone”. Outside of raising your blood sugars, cortisol can have you craving salty, sweet, and fried foods. This tends to give you a burst of pleasure.

If you are someone that has a tendency for stress eating, then the more stress you have in your life, the more likely you are to look at food as emotional relief. In return, it will only give you a great deal of guilt for eating beyond what your system allows. In order to avoid this kind of approach, you can always trick your mind into finding healthier and kinder distractions like having a healthy snack, eating meals at short intervals, going for a walk, but not to the refrigerator, etc. You might want to try these and you will surely notice a gradual yet affirmative response.

Undereating or Stress Starvation

This is the other side of the coin of eating disorders. It causes a person to reduce their diet by a prominent margin, the reasons for which can be stress, again. Stress and anxiety can amplify the emotional and psychological changes in the body, hence affecting your digestive system. Most people tend to lose a ton of weight due to a loss of interest in just their regular appetite, let alone eating foods that they love.

Due to the increase in cortisol level due to stress and anxiety, there is increased acid production in the stomach. This process helps the body quickly digest food in preparation for ‘fight-or-flight,’ which is settled by adrenaline, hence causing decreased appetite.

There is another myth attached to ‘starving’ oneself in order to lose weight willingly because that is the ideal body image most of us have. If you have been in back-to-back meetings and forgotten to eat lunch, it does not ‘skip calories’ as you would think it does. Instead, it results in an increase in cortisol levels which, in turn, can push one to eat sugary or fatty foods later on in the day, when you've switched off and relaxed. Therefore, try maintaining a diet chart or consult your doctor or treat your stress and anxiety in a way where you do not give up on your regular healthy intake.

Bottom Line

The bottom line, however, is that stress has a negative impact on people where some resort to overeating while others resort to starving themselves. Here’s a small list of what you should be doing instead:  

  • Don’t skip your meals. It might be oddly rewarding at the moment because it seems like you are bunking the ‘calorie consumption. However, in reality, you are only ‘adding calories’ by preparing your body for a binge later. 
  • Work on your stress. Food is a temporary solution. Consult someone who can help you with your stressors and anxieties so that it does not affect your digestive system.
  • Create a mind-body connection by including movement in your day. This could be a slow 10-minute walk around the house, every 3 hours or a long 20-minute stretch. 
  • Hydrate yourself at regular intervals throughout the day. Make sure you drink plenty of water and eat meals at fixed hours at all times. This way, your body will get habituated and give out hunger cues at the right hours.

Given the current circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic, you may find yourself stressed out more than usual, which may result in overeating or starvation. However, these tips will help you maintain a balanced diet and also improve many other aspects of your health.

We at Proactive aim at creating a world-class medical experience for Indian women and adopt gold standards in every healthcare initiative whether it’s a teleconsultation or a webinar. What sets us apart from the rest is our liberal, convenient, and holistic approach to healthcare. 

Read Also: Craving Sugar? Here's 11 Healthy Alternatives

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements. 

ProactiveForHer is a digital clinic for women, offering accessible, personalised, and confidential healthcare solutions. We offer out-patient care, diagnostic services and programs for various health concerns of Indian women, across their lifetime - from puberty to pregnancy to menopause.