When you’re stressed, just about every other component of your life can be impacted in one way or another. Many things that are healthy for you tend to fall to the wayside, with one of the first things being your eating habits.
There are many other aspects of life that are also influenced including:
- the amount of alcohol you drink;
- how you approach your relationship with food;
- how you interact with others, and
- how much enjoyment you get from the world.
Research has found that the type of stress and your personality will determine the negative impact on your eating habits. At times, you may lose your appetite or you may consciously restrict and control your food intake. Other times, it could mean overeating, impulsive binge eating or comfort eating, in an attempt to make yourself feel better. While your brain may be telling you one thing when you’re stressed, your body is telling you something different.
So, how exactly are food and stress linked, and how does one thing impact the other? Read on to find out more about how a healthier, happier, and less-stressed brain can have a positive knock-on effect on how healthy your food habits are too:
Why Does Stress Affect How You Eat?
To understand how to resolve stress and prevent it from worsening your overeating or restrictive eating patterns, the first thing you need to know is what is causing the stress. Whether it’s stress at home, in the workplace, or due to finances, stress isn’t just in your head. As part of your fight or flight response, stress triggers a range of different biological functions in your body, which impacts how you eat.
Just some of the physical side effects of stress include:
- Changes in hormones within the body;
- Increased blood sugar;
- Increased blood pressure, and
- A higher heart rate.
Thousands of years ago, the way our bodies handled stress would be incredibly effective. But these days, constant stress can easily lead to changes in how our body works, which in turn changes how we behave.
There are many studies on the biological influences on our behaviours. A recent study showed that people with chronic, high levels of stress are far more prone to crave comfort foods and that this can easily turn into an addiction. While cigarettes, alcohol and drugs are all addiction types that can arise from stress, high-sugar and high-fat foods can also become addictive over time. The longer that stress goes on and the longer your eating habits are unhealthy and imbalanced, it can result in significant disordered eating behaviours or even eating disorders.
Poor Eating Habits Can Make Stress Worse
The food choices you make when you’re stressed can easily chip away at all areas of your health. By choosing to eat the comfort foods which trigger binge eating or buying unhealthy takeaway that results in overeating, it has a short-term gain with a poor long-term outcome.
While turning to food as a comfort or reward to make yourself feel better after a stressful day, week or month, beyond that immediate rush, you’ll likely find yourself feeling worse. As with any episode of emotional eating or binge eating, you gain immediate satisfaction, but you aren’t learning how to better manage the stressful events that keep triggering you to turn to food to ‘solve your problems’. Unfortunately, turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms will lead to poorer health, reduced stress tolerance, depression and weight gain.
It’s been proven that an improved diet which is healthy and balanced, can increase positive moods, provide you with more energy, and help you think more clearly. But when you’re in the depths of stress, it can be hard to see beyond what’s right in front of you. That’s why you can make the best possible impact on your eating habits by tackling stressors up-front and providing yourself with a good foundation for success and health.
Why Does Less Stress Equal Better Eating Habits?
If your mind is crowded with racing thoughts and constant worry, it will make the most important and simplest things in life more difficult. As such, choosing to eat regularly, and making healthy food choices, a priority becomes hard. It doesn’t help that easy convenience foods are far more accessible than healthier options.
By tackling your stress, you can give yourself room to breathe and have the mental capacity to make healthier choices. The better you get at managing your stress, the more resilient you become. What once seemed difficult will be easy. This includes being able to choose to eat a healthy and balanced diet which in turn, will help to reduce the cravings for comfort foods and episodes of emotional and binge eating.
It’s impossible to remove all stressors from your life. However, you can learn to manage stress better which will enable you to handle stressful situations more effectively, with the aid of healthy strategies and coping mechanisms. Over time, you will begin to notice your change in perspective, behaviours and ability to cope with stress.
Working with a qualified psychologist, counsellor or therapist may be a great way to access those tools. Which will then give you a dedicated pace to tackle any of your eating issues and unhealthy habits once the immediate ‘threat’ your brain is reacting to, is under control.
With the proper tools and the support of a qualified professional you will begin to set yourself up for long-term success by better understanding both stress and disordered eating behaviours.
A healthier mind leads to healthier eating habits.