Eating is a coping mechanism for many people during times of stress. It is so common because, unfortunately, it works (or, at least it seems to work). Eating foods that are high in sugar and refined flour has an immediate calming effect, but comes with long-term consequences that can be hard to reverse. In this post, I’ll share what happens inside of you when you stress eat and practical ways that I have found to stop stress eating.
Stop Stress Eating At-A-Glance
- Eating refined foods causes the release of a “feel-good” brain chemical called dopamine, which temporarily makes you feel calmer.
- To control stress eating, it helps to focus on why you don’t want the consequences of overeating.
- Stoppers are activities, foods, or drinks that help you move away from the desire to eat.
- When stress mounts, it is helpful to have a clean environment with no junk food in the house.
How to Stop Stress Eating and Why You Do It [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- What happens to your body when you stress eat.
- Different ways to stop stress eating.
- Additional methods for weight loss.
Why We Stress Eat
There are physiological reasons for turning to food when you are stressed. Eating, especially refined treats like desserts, cookies, chips, and candy, causes a release of dopamine in your brain.
Dopamine is nicknamed the feel-good chemical because when it’s released, you feel good, calm, and less stressed. Sugar gives you an immediate reward. Even though that good feeling is not sustained for very long, it makes a powerful impression on your brain.
In fact, your brain creates neurochemical pathways that remember the joy you felt the last time you ate sugar. When you experience stress in the future, your brain recalls that eating sugar gives you relief and therefore stimulates cravings.
On top of that, if you continue to eat refined snacks, desserts, and fast foods every day, the constant stimulation becomes too much for your brain, and the dopamine receptors that pick up the feel-good chemical diminish.
This is your brain’s attempt to down-regulate the stimulus, but what you find is that it takes more and more junk food to make you feel good.
3 Ways to Stop Stress Eating?
We are up against a lot when it comes to stress and dealing with food. You need solid strategies to get control of stress eating. Here are three things that you may find useful.
Find a Reason
The first and foremost thing is that there must be a good reason not to turn to food as a coping mechanism. If you view a situation as hopeless, it is nearly impossible to come up with a reason not to just give up and say “what’s the point, I’ll deal with the consequences later.”
There’s always a point, and it doesn’t have to be anything monumental. For me, when I would love to sit down on the couch with a bag of M&M Peanuts and eat my stress away, my reason for not doing so is simple.
I don’t want to lose ground.
I have been heavy in my past. It took a long time and a lot of discipline to get to where I am comfortable now. I don’t want to go through that again, and it is in my control not to do so.
I might not eat like an angel when times are stressful, but I am going to keep doing things that prevent weight gain.
Stoppers are any activity or item that separates you from the desire to keep eating. They are particularly helpful for ending a meal before dessert.
Stoppers work because they either change the taste in your mouth or they take a long time to consume, which gives your brain time to realize that you’re full and shut down hunger. There are a lot of different Stoppers that I share in my programs.
One practical thing that you can do is have a stick of minty sugar-free gum sitting beside your dinner plate. As soon as you finish eating, put the gum in your mouth. Don’t think about it, just pop it in. The mint flavor changes the taste in your mouth, making it undesirable to keep eating.
You could also have a cup of tea beside your plate and sip it immediately after dinner. Tea makes for a great Stopper because it is hot, which means that it takes time to consume, and that gives your brain time to realize that you’re full.
Keep Junk Food Out of The House
Another strategy is to keep junk food out of your house. In today’s world, it is hard to avoid the news, and the news is pretty good at telling us everything that is going wrong in the world. It can certainly be depressing, and if it catches you at a time when you are tired or drained, it can send you to the kitchen looking for something to take the edge off of the stress.
When you go, you’re not looking for celery and broccoli, you’re looking for anything that is refined because those refined foods are the ones that get in your system quickly and cause the feel-good, dopamine release.
It is important to remember that all cravings pass. Whether you eat junk food or not, that craving will go away. If you don’t have junk food available, you will probably feel bummed for a few minutes, but you will be so thankful later when the intensity of the craving naturally fades.
We are all unique, and we have all lived through stressful times. I have a belief that this too shall pass. The other day I saw a quote that read, “This too shall pass. It might pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”
In other words, stress is an inevitable part of life. Stressful situations can stretch on much longer than any of us like. But, the burden will always pass.
Keep in mind that you want to be in the best position when the stress is over. Remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect with your eating, but you don’t want to lose ground.
Have practical safeguards in place by using Stoppers and keeping junk food out of your house. I hope this helps you get your mind and body working together because that is what it takes.
Check out my free video series that goes over my 4 daily habits for weight loss. You’ll learn a practical eating strategy and also be introduced to my 3Es and concepts that help you mentally reach your goal.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated in 1991 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College.