There is much truth behind the phrase “stress eating.” Stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” push people toward overeating. Researchers have linked weight gain to stress, and according to an American Psychological Association survey, about one-fourth of Americans rate their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale.
In the short term, stress can shut down appetite. The nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands atop the kidneys to pump out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Epinephrine helps trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, a revved-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold.
But if stress persists, it’s a different story. The adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the “on” position — cortisol may stay elevated.
Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible. Other research suggests that ghrelin, a “hunger hormone,” may have a role.
Eating activates the parts of the brain that are associated with the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the relaxation response. As soon as we start eating, we begin shifting into a state of relaxation on some level.
You can change nervous eating habits, and I suggest below how to deal with emotional eating.
But depending on how nervous you are as well as the intensity of your nervous eating experiences, you may benefit from professional help. I
Ways to Deal With Anxious Eating
- a hot bath
- a massage
- listening to relaxing music
- lavender candles or essential oils
- watching the waves at the ocean
- basking in the sun
- snuggling a pet
Acupuncture produces results by subtly altering and enhancing physiological functions, i.e. soothing and calming the nerves while simultaneously curbing the appetite, and raising the metabolic rate while increasing energy and eliminating excess fluid. Thus, acupuncture presents a more balanced gentle alternative to harsh, one-sided obesity control techniques more commonly available.