Stress Eating 101: Navigating Unhealthy Attachments to Food

Stress Eating 101: Navigating Unhealthy Attachments to Food

“Food can distract you from your pain. But food cannot take away your pain. In fact, overeating the wrong foods can cause more pain.” – Karen Salmansohn

Stress & Covid

Stress amongst the human population in the United States has been a deadly killer for quite some time, but with the introduction of COVID-19, immense stress and trauma have transformed into long-term consequences on our bodies and psyches. The state of the world as a whole has been extremely hard to fathom and has violently disrupted life and its regularly scheduled programming. We, as a society, are getting pummeled daily for the last two years at our jobs, in our finances, and in our health. Human Beings tend to have emotional recollections that tie them to certain foods, and during bouts of depression, our bodies store more fat.

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, nearly 78 percent of adults say the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives.

Feeling overwhelmed these days is normal, and while you should feel no shame behind it, learning how to compartmentalize stress can save your life when it’s all said and done.

What Your Body Goes Through When Stress Eating

Within periods of stress and depression, our bodies are operated by three main hormones:

  1.   Cortisol
  2.   Dopamine
  3.   Serotonin

Cortisol, widely known as the “stress hormone”, instructs the body on how to respond to stress. Too much or too little cortisol, chronically, can harm your physical and mental health. This particular hormone regulates a wide range of processes including your metabolism and immune response and also assists with breaking down carbs, fats, and proteins. In correlation to stress, extra cortisol is released to assist the body to respond accordingly.

Dopamine is the head of our pleasure centers, and for humans, is essential for feeling things like satisfaction, motivation, and other emotional responses. It has a massive bearing on the introduction of psychological disorders when levels are low, and dysfunction of dopamine systems has been known to correlate to nervous system disorders. (Example, ALS and Parkinson’s disease.)


Serotonin is produced by the body’s nerve cells. This chemical is primarily found within your digestive system, encouraging a direct correlation between food and your mood. By regulating your mood naturally, when serotonin levels are normal, you’ll feel happiness and emotional stability. Depression is very often linked to low serotonin levels and if not balanced, can pose problems to many important bodily functions.

By eating a healthier diet, balancing out the hormones that interfere with stress management becomes key. The food cravings that will hit you the hardest come at some of the toughest times in our lives; therefore, knowing how to navigate these emotions will assure consistency in your diet.

Managing Stress Eating

Stress is subjective and is something the majority of us will consistently experience. The ramifications behind stress eating most of the time aren’t worth the long-time consequences and interruption of your diet goals. So, change the narrative. Play on the offensive rather than the defensive with your health and take control by being aware and using these tips:

  •   Get a grip on your stress. If you remove the irritant, naturally the issue resolves itself. Of course, it’s easier said than done, and there are plenty of nuances behind the cause of stress but taking the precautions to keep it at bay is vital.
  •   Make better snack choices. If you’re going to binge, at least fill your belly with healthier options. Opt to grab a piece of fruit instead of that chocolate you’ve been eyeing.
  •   Baby steps. Sometimes a full-blown diet isn’t what you need; most things are just fine in moderation. Learn to create and not cross personal boundaries – A handful of chips will do, not the whole bag!
  •   Combat your boredom. Being bored is one of the best stages for hunger production. Idle hands and thoughts are counterproductive in this journey – Keep yourself busy mentally or physically.
  •   Maintain a food diary. Keeping a record of what you eat, how much you eat, and your feelings in the process is a good way to recognize patterns in your routine and pinpoint stress eating.
  •   Allow yourself grace. If you go through a period where the cravings win the battle, go into the next day with a game face. Don’t cry over spilled milk; pick yourself up and continue working toward your health goals.

In Conclusion

In regard to learning how not to stress eat, learning your triggers and solutions to those triggers is paramount. Whether that involves participating in a hobby or phoning a friend, the trick is to choose an alternative that is not food-centric. Emotional eating isn’t necessarily bad; in an unconventional way, you’re self-medicating. When it becomes the chosen coping mechanism is when it’s time to accept the fact that the behavior is possibly problematic. You will be amazed at how much better your body feels and responds to you while healthy, but that requires being proactive with taking better steps toward stress management. Do not be shy or feel embarrassed if you need to outsource support or assistance – Tennessee Fitness Spa offers nutritional guidance services; learn more about it here.