Overeating Due to Stress? Here's What to Do

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Overeating Due to Stress? Here's What to Do

Last updated: Thursday, April 25, 2019 | 5 min reading time

If you find yourself turning to food for comfort, even when you're not hungry, you might be stress eating.

What is stress eating?

Food is a central aspect of human life and is necessary for survival. However, many people develop a relationship with food that is less about eating for health and wellness, and more about coping with emotions. Stress eating, also known as emotional eating, is a reliance on food to bring comfort, happiness and distraction from feelings of anger, sadness, or stress. It typically results in overeating because it is the emotion that dictates how much you eat, not your body.

Why does junk food provide comfort?

Why junk food brings comfort
It is normal to feel hungry when you're stressed, because your body produces more cortisol which is also known as the 'hunger hormone'. Stress may also reduce the level of 'happiness hormones', serotonin and dopamine, which could elicit cravings for foods high in sugar or fat. When consuming foods high in sugar or fat, your brain releases more serotonin and dopamine, which improve your mood and alleviate anxiety. However, the effect is usually short-lived because the root cause of your stress triggers is not properly addressed. Feelings of stress would usually return, and you will find yourself caught in the cycle of stress eating all over again.

The difference between stress eating and physical hunger

If you are stress eating, you'll probably notice the following warning signs:

The consequences of overeating

Consequences of overeating
Overeating has many consequences for your health, including an increased risk of developing certain diseases. Overeating can lead to:

When stress eating becomes a recurring issue – you might want to rule out binge eating disorder, which is a subclass of eating disorders. While stress-induced overeating occurs periodically, binge eating occurs at least once a week for 3 consecutive months. Besides overeating, individuals who binge eat typically suffer from lack of self-control, disgust, guilt, or embarrassment, and they usually binge eat in isolation in order to conceal the behaviour from others. They may also harbour compensatory behaviours, such as compulsive exercise, laxative abuse, self-induced vomiting, and extreme fasting. Seeking professional help is necessary in order to manage this condition.

How to deal with stress eating

If you think you might be overeating due to stress, you should see your doctor. They will offer you an overall check-up, to make sure you aren't suffering from any illnesses linked to your eating habits. They may also:

There are also some things that you can do to help yourself get back in control of your eating. Try:

Lowering stress

Lowering stress
Take steps to minimise stress and to manage your eating habits. Start by:

If you are struggling

It is always best to see your doctor if you are struggle with your eating habits. There may be a number of factors that contribute to your overeating and stress problems. Getting help and advice for dealing with those factors will give you the best chance for overall health and happiness.

Goldberg, J. (2017, February 8) How Does Stress Affect Binge Eating? Retrieved 17/3/19 from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/stress-binge-eating-disorder#2

Goldberg, J. (2018, May 11) How To Stop Emotional Eating. Retrieved 17/3/19 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/stop-emotional-eating

Ratini, M. (2014, July 28) Emotional Eating: What Helps. Retrieved 17/3/19 from https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/emotional-eating#2

Shroff, A.(2018, June 18) How To Change Emotional Eating. Retrieved 17/3/19 from https://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/mood/change-emotional-eating#3

Zelman, K. (N.D.) Top 10 Ways to De-Stress and Eat Less. Retrieved 17/3/19 from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/top-10-ways-to-destress-and-eat-less

Article tags

Stress management Weight management & obesity