Long Read

Why We Stress Eat & How To Avoid It?

Managing stress effectively is paramount to supporting our health and wellbeing. It can be difficult to recognise stress since it can affect each of us in different ways. Some of us may find ourselves easily overwhelmed, leading us to pick up unhealthy habits. Others may appear completely immune to stress and the behaviours associated with it. In this article, we’ll look at how to recognise stress and explore affective ways of managing it and how to avoid stress eating. 

What is stress? 

According to Mental Health Foundation, stress is our body’s way of responding to pressure [1]This response is usually triggered by different events and situations we face that leave us feeling overwhelmed or out of control – an argument with a loved one, working to tight deadlines, or an illness – to name a few.  

Stress isn’t always such a bad thing. See, if we had no stress in our lives at all, life would be pretty boring. A small amount of stress could be seen as a challenge, something that drives our motivation and builds our excitement to tackle something. This could be learning a language, starting a new job, or welcoming a baby into the family. 

The problem arises when we experience too many pressures, but we don’t have enough resources to help us manage them. When our pressures build and we experience them for a long period of time, that’s when our mind and body start suffering. Research shows that persistent, long-term stress not only impact our mental wellbeing and could lead to the development of mental health conditions, it can also raise our blood pressure and blood glucose levels, which could increase the risk of developing more serious health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes [2]. 

So, what’s the solution? 

Before we start to think about how we can reduce stress, it’s best to start right at the source and make sure we are able to recognise stress when it occurs and recognise triggers that lead to stress.  

Recognising stress: 

The symptoms of stress are often very vague because we all experience stress differently. There are, however, some common symptoms to look out for. Physical symptoms we might experience are things like headaches, dizziness, problems with digestion, chest pain and rapid heartbeat; mental symptoms include inability to focus, constantly worrying and feeling overwhelmed.  

Often these symptoms can lead to changes in behaviour, such as drinking and smoking, changes in eating habits, being snappy, and changes in sleeping pattern.  

Managing stress: 

It’s not all doom and gloom. Here are a few things we can do to help manage our stress. Remember, the stress we experience is very individual. That’s the same for managing stress – what works for one person may not work for another. So, it’s best to personalise stress management techniques as much as possible. 

  1. Socialise with friends, family and loved ones 
  2. Talk about your feelings 
  3. Find relaxing activities you enjoy, like yoga, walking, reading or listening to podcasts 
  4. Using breathing exercises 
  5. Practice time management techniques and plan for stressful days and events 
  6. Set yourself goals and challenge yourself to learn new skills 

How to stop stress eating 

For many of us, when we’re stressed, we turn to food as a source of comfort. There are 2 problems with thiswe often dampen the problem, rather than solve it; we often reach for processed foods that are high in calories, fat and sugar to fill the void or make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, which leads to feelings of guilt and shame afterwards 

Here’s some things we can do to avoid stress eating: 

  1. Routine – Planning out meals and eating at regular intervals leaves less room for spontaneous snacks and overeating.  
  2. Recognise hunger from craving – Recognising the difference between hunger and craving can help us analyse our eating habits and help us understand the reasons why and what we’re eating. When we’re craving food, we tend to desire something quite specific, usually higher in fat, sugar and energy. If we wait 10-15 minutes, the cravings will likely passHunger is a more physical sensation. We might feel our tummy rumbling, a bit tired, unable to concentrate and if we wait, this feeling is unlikely to go away.  
  3. Distract yourself – Do something you find relaxing, like taking a walk or having a bath and allow 10-15 minutes for cravings to pass.  
  4. Keep a food diary – It doesn’t have to be too detailed, but if you record your food throughout the day and also make a note of your feelings, a food diary can be a really great way to analyse your behaviours, allowing you to recognise which feelings are leading you to make certain food choices. 

We know that stress is experienced by so many of us and that oftentimes, throughout our weight loss journey, stress may manifest in ways we wouldn’t have imagined – sometimes it can result in us falling back into habits we want to avoid, like reaching for cakes and biscuits, or pouring 1 too many glasses of wine. 

Be sure to keep an eye on our Instagram where we’ll be sharing stress tips, tricks and real-life customer journeys! 

We’ve also got an incredibly active and supportive community in our closed Facebook group – come join! 

Sophie Elwood

Sophie Elwood

Writer and expert

Sophie is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with a BSc (hons) Nutrition degree and background in working with patients with Type 2 Diabetes. Sophie is a dedicated foodie, with lots of experience in food and nutrition education.