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Stress Affects What We Eat

By on 06/02/2015
stress eating

 Stress Affects What We Eat

Did you know that stress directly affects the foods we choose to eat?

A recent Harris Poll Showed that 46% of Americans are less careful about food choices when stressed.

Have you ever wondered whether stress affects what we eat?  If so, you are keenly observant because research shows that yes, it does.  Some will overeat, others don’t feel like eating much at all.  Many reach  for fast food on the run – or choose  “comfort foods” that are high in sugar, starch, and fats.  These can have a temporary calming effect, but they can also cause us to put on the pounds.

Researchers at Ohio State University found that short periods of emotional stress can slow down the body’s process of clearing some fats from the bloodstream.  If fat is allowed to circulate in the bloodstream too long, it may end up being deposited in the arteries, increasing your risk of heart attacks

In a nutshell, think of “stress” as the state of physical, emotional or mental strain or tension that results from demanding circumstances that we face from sources such as our jobs or from a variety of problems in your life.

For instance, many are the times we feel tired and worn out at the end of a busy day and you fill that you need something sweet such as a nibble of ice cream or a bite of cake to cheer you up.  Of course you just intend to only take a few bites but before you realize it you have eaten it all!  For an instant you feel satiated, then suddenly guilty and like a failure.

Well, when we are stressed, our bodies produce certain hormones that sets us crave for sugary foods and further push us to eat more food than we normally do.

stress affects what we eat

Mindless snacking

What effects does stress have on our appetite?  Truly can stress affect what we eat?

Yes, stress can either lead to overeating or loss of appetite.

Have you ever been stressed that you don’t feel like eating anything including your favorite  food?

In the short term, stress actually suppresses down our appetite. There is a special feature in our brain called hypothalamus that produces corticotroin-releasing hormone which in turn suppresses down your appetite.  Additionally, the brain sends impulses to the adrenal glands (located above the kidney) to release a hormone called adrenaline(officially known as Epinephrine). This hormone is helps the body respond to a danger, otherwise known as the fight or flight response.  In such a response instinct drives us to stop from eating temporarily.

On the other hand, if the stress persists for a long time, the brain sends impulses to the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.  This hormone is responsible of increased appetite in human beings.  It increases the feeling or motivation to eat. If the stressing factor comes to an end then the amount of cortisol level in the blood will decrease.  However, if the stressor persists, the amount of cortisol level produced increases hence a person will consume more and more.


The answer is yes. To be in particular, stress leads us to crave for more sugary and foods with a relatively high amount of fat.

According to research (from which many of the clinical trials are carried out on animals),  physical, mental or emotional distress have the tendency to increase the intake of foods specifically with a high fat or sugar content. Such studies relate this to be a result of a combination of cortisol and insulin that are normally released into the blood. Other researches claim that the hormone Ghrelin is responsible for this response.

To answer the question as to why we crave sugary foods such as candies when confronted by stressors, is because when such foods are ingested, they inhibit some parts of the brain that produce or process stress related hormones. So the most probable reason why we crave for such foods is that these foods help the body to counteract stress.

Can we directly link stress to be the main cause of becoming overweight?  As a matter of fact, stress is not the only behavior associated with increase in weight. Most of the people who are stressed also do exhibit such characteristics like loss of sleep, overconsumption of alcohol and are less likely to engage in physical exercises. These overly contribute to increase in weight among such people.


According to research, there is a gender difference in the stress-coping behavior. The studies points out that many women are likely to turn to food while men will tend turn to smoking or alcoholism in response to stressors. Additionally the study pointed out that, out of 5000 men and women sampled, it was likely that obesity was associated with stress-related eating in women and not in men.

According to research carried out by Harvard researchers, stressors such as work or other problems were associated with weight gain but this is only to the people who overweight at the at the start of the study.

What is the possible explanation of the above scientific study? People who are overweight have increased insulin levels in their blood. This is the reason as to why, stress-related weight gain is likely to occur to such individuals.

Additionally ,a study conducted by British researchers showed that people who produce more cortisol when confronted by stress are more likely to snack in their daily activities than those who than those who respond to such stressors with a relatively lower amount of cortisol.

It is worth to note that the amount of cortisol different people produce in response to a stress may be a factor in the stress related weight gain equation.

What can you do?

Many years of research have gone into studying the physiology of and relationship between the heart, stress, and emotions, as well as the effects of stress on health and wellbeing. There are now some simple but highly effective techniques that facilitate heart rhythm coherence. Simply stated, coherence is a measurable state that occurs when the heart, brain, and nervous system are working in harmony.  When stress levels are low, using scientifically validated techniques taught by Healthcoach Cathy, can help you build emotional buoyancy.  Using these techniques regularly, even if you’re not stressed out, helps you to build and accumulate more emotional balance and flexibility so you can better handle stress when it does arise.

Another helpful tool to manage stress is the recommended biofeedback emWave Personal Stress Reliever®.  The proper use and application of this small handheld device will help you shift out of the stress that fuels the urge to overindulge, and into a more balanced state of mind and heart where you’re more likely to make healthy choices.

Creating a self-care plan with coaching that you can stick with five days a week helps you build positive habits that support you during times of stress.

stress affects what we eatWhen stress hits:

So the next time you have the urge to overindulge, ask yourself one simple question–  are you physically hungry or eating to feed “emotional hunger?”  If it’s your emotional world that has the craving, you can use the stress management techniques taught in the Burnout Breakthrough coaching program, to nurture yourself. Research shows that feelings of love or appreciation create a cascade of biochemical events that nourish the body and the mind. That’s why love feels so good. It supports the body’s optimal state.

Whether you tend to eat too much or too little, try asking yourself what’s underneath the stress. Being “heart vulnerable” with yourself – admitting what you’re really feeling – is the start of taking better care of yourself. Physical exercise can help you integrate your mind and emotions with your body making it easier to get your eating back on track.

If eating problems persist, seek professional help.

If you would like more information about using biofeedback to manage stress, or if you are ready for a coach to help you master your stress-related health and wellness goals, the Burnout Breakthrough Program may be for you – click here.





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