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Stress Eating and How It Affects Weight Gain and Loss

Stress eating
| May 17, 2022

We’ve all been there, it’s 4:30 pm, and you’ve just gotten home from work. You’re tired, stressed out, and hungry—but you don’t have time to make yourself anything to eat. What do you do?

If you’re like most people, the answer is to eat. And not just a little bit of food you probably want to eat an entire box of cookies or an entire bag of chips. This phenomenon has a name: stress eating.

Stress eating happens when your body is under physical or emotional stress. It can be triggered by several things, including boredom or loneliness; a bad day at work; arguments with friends or family members; relationship conflicts; or even just being bored at home on Friday night after having worked all week long.

What is Stress Eating?

Stress eating is also known as emotional eating. It is the tendency to eat more when under stress. It occurs when you’re stressed out and you eat a lot more than usual. It’s not just that you’re hungry and needs to eat more—it’s that when you’re stressed out, your body sends signals to your brain saying “I need food!

For some, stress eating is a way to deal with anxiety or stress. It’s a reaction, not necessarily a plan. You may be stressed out because of something that happened at work, for instance, and you “reward” yourself by going to the vending machine for chips and cookies instead of grabbing some fresh fruit from the cafeteria. In this case, you used food as a reward or distraction—you ate because you wanted to make yourself feel better in that moment (by distracting yourself from what had been stressing you).

If we think of stress as an emotion that can be triggered by any number of things (I’m hungry! I’m sad!), then eating out of frustration could be seen as part of our emotional response to those feelings. If we’re feeling anxious over something stressful happening tomorrow morning at work (or if we’ve forgotten our lunch), it makes sense that we might reach into our desk drawer and pull out some peanuts, chocolate, or potato chips.

Is Stress Eating a Disorder?

Some people might say that stress eating is a disorder, but this isn’t the case. Instead, it’s more of a natural stress response and can be quite helpful in our day-to-day lives.

When you’re stressed, your body is flooded with a rush of stress hormones, that’s normal. But when those levels stay elevated for too long—as can happen if you’re constantly stressed out—your body starts to think it’s in danger. It thinks that it needs to store energy, so it begins to store more fat (instead of burning it off).

If you’re someone who tends to eat more when they’re stressed out, then you’ve probably noticed that your body seems much happier with this type of behavior than it does when you skip meals altogether (which is another common response). There’s even research showing that self-soothing through food can lower cortisol levels and reduce feelings of anxiety!

Does Hunger Cause One To Stress Eat?

Hunger is a physical need. Stress is a feeling that can be caused by many things, including hunger. Hunger is when your body needs food to function; stress, on the other hand, can happen when you’re hungry but also without food and even when you do have food!

Stress eating is not the same as hunger. Many people use eating as a coping mechanism for emotions like stress or sadness and not because they are hungry at all. If this happens often enough to have an impact on your health (e.g., weight gain), it might be time to seek help from a professional mental health provider who can help identify underlying issues affecting your life so that you can move forward more healthily.

Stress Eating and Its Relation To Weight Gain

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol that increases your appetite and tells your body to store more fat. But here’s the thing: when you’re stressed, your brain doesn’t register the same amount of pleasure from eating as it does when you’re calm. So even though you may feel like you want to eat something sweet or salty when you’re stressed out—and you probably do—it won’t give you the satisfaction that it would normally provide.

This means that even though you may want something sugary or salty during times of stress (because they taste good!), there’s no guarantee that it’ll satisfy you. Yet this will lead to weight gain because it’s hard for our bodies to know what we want so much that we end up eating everything in sight—and then some!

The problem with stress eating is that it usually backfires in two ways: first, by making us eat more than we need; second, by making us feel guilty about overeating. And both of these things can lead directly down our path toward weight gain!

Stress eating can lead to weight gain, health problems, and depression. The reason we eat when we’re stressed is because of the body’s fight or flight response: during a stressful situation, our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol into our bloodstream. These hormones help us deal with emergencies—they can give you extra energy, make your heart beat faster so that you can run faster and keep going longer without getting tired, and increase blood flow around the body so that your muscles have more oxygen available to them and make some parts of your body like stomachs contract in preparation for digestion (this is why many people feel hungry after they’ve been scared).

Unfortunately, these same hormones also make us want food—so instead of running away from danger or fighting back against an attacker if all else fails (which would be quite handy), it makes sense for our bodies to encourage us towards eating instead!

When you stress eat, you’re giving yourself a dopamine boost. Dopamine is one of the chemicals in your brain that makes you feel good—it acts as a reward for certain behaviors and helps us learn from our experiences. But when we get too much dopamine, it can make us crave even more dopamine-producing foods like sweets and refined carbs. So when we eat them, we feel better—but then our bodies start craving those foods again and again because they’re looking for the same dopamine boost! It’s a vicious cycle!

Stress eating isn’t just a bad habit—it’s also linked to significant weight gain over time. According to one study published in the journal Health Psychology, people who reported stress-eating habits gained an average of 5 pounds over 4 years.

The researchers also found that people who had more severe symptoms of anxiety were more likely than others to experience significant weight gain as well as other health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes mellitus type 2 (DM2). This suggests that stress-eating may be closely linked with other mental health issues as well, such as depression or anxiety disorders.

In addition to its effects on weight gain alone, there appears to be an inverse relationship between stress eating habits and overall health: The worse off

Tips for Stress Eating

Stress eating is a learned behavior. It can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder.

If you find yourself stress eating regularly and the behavior doesn’t seem to have an end in sight, talk to your doctor about whether it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional. If your stress eating seems more like a food addiction than comfort eating, you may also want to consider seeking treatment for that issue with the help of professionals who specialize in treating food addictions and disorders.

Other useful tips to help in the control of stress eating include;

Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating a healthy and balanced diet will keep you energized and focused during stressful times. High protein meals will keep you full and energized and prevent you from stress eating.

Eat Slowly

Eating quickly only adds fuel to the fire of stress eating by speeding up digestion and gut response time—which means more food gets into circulation sooner than intended! So slow down when eating; chew thoroughly before swallowing; enjoy each bite as if it were dessert rather than shoveling it down as fast as possible just because there’s another one waiting for us later today so why bother enjoying what we have now?

When you are stressed, it is easy to forget that your body needs food and water to function properly. You may find yourself eating quickly or even gorging yourself on food in an attempt to soothe your feelings. By eating slowly, you will be more likely to feel full after each meal, which helps prevent overeating. While some people may think eating slowly is a waste of time, it can help them make better decisions about what they choose to eat when they’re stressed out or overwhelmed with work or school projects.

Eat Smaller Meals

Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day so that when hunger strikes, your body has plenty of fuel on hand to keep going until the next mealtime rolls around. Try eating at least three regular-sized meals per day with two or three snacks in between if needed (just be sure not to go overboard on those snacks).

Don’t Skip Meals

Skipping meals leads directly to stress-eating later on! Make sure you eat breakfast every day, even if it’s just a small bowl of cereal or some toast with peanut butter.

Skipping breakfast sets up low blood sugar levels throughout the day which leads directly back into stress mode again soon after lunchtime hits and then again several hours later when dinner finally arrives at home plate.

Eat Before Going To Bed

We know that sleep deprivation leads to weight gain, but did you know that eating late at night can also make it harder for your body to burn fat? Make sure whatever you eat before bed is light—maybe a little bit of fruit or a few crackers with cheese on them. If you’re really hungry after dinner, try snacking on a piece of fruit or drinking some tea instead of grabbing an entire pint of ice cream (or whatever other unhealthy things might be in your freezer).

Relax Daily

Take time every day for some relaxation, whether it’s meditation or just going for a walk around the block.

Get Some Sleep

It’s hard to deal with stress if you’re exhausted from lack of sleep


Stress is a normal part of life, but it can also be a trigger for overeating. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce more cortisol, which is the hormone that makes you crave foods high in sugar and fat. Because stress can make us crave sugary snacks and comfort foods, it’s important to have healthy options available when you need them most. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to help curb your cravings when they strike:

  • Eat small meals throughout the day instead of getting all your calories in one big sit-down meal at night
  • Take time every day for some relaxation—whether it’s meditation or just going for a walk around the block
  • Get some sleep! It’s hard to deal with stress if you’re exhausted from lack of sleep.

In general, try to get other more relaxing ways to deal with stress other than eating.

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