We’ve all had cravings before.
The post-dinner craving, the late-night craving, or the work-day stress craving.
Sometimes these cravings are so intense we stop what we’re doing and run to the pantry.
You could be in a pattern of stress eating but not even realize it’s happening.
Even if you feel like you have your stress under control, it can present in different ways.
Whether you’re experiencing work stress, family stress, general everyday stressors, or even muscular stress– these are all triggers for stress eating.
So what’s really going on in your body to cause this type of impulsive stress eating?
What Is Stress Eating and Why Do We Do It?
Stress eating is exactly how it sounds– eating when we’re stressed and not because we’re hungry.
Research shows women tend to disregard healthy eating habits when they’re in stressful situations. One study shows 80% of women reported increased food intake while stressed.
We as women put a lot of pressure on ourselves in today’s world. And it’s easy to fall into this trap of stress eating to help curb our cravings.
I’m here to help you better understand what’s happening in stressful times and how you can find a balance without sacrificing the pleasure of a good meal.
How Stress Eating Harms the Body
How and what you eat can have a powerful effect on your mood, emotions, and food choices.
Scientists suggest moods and emotions may be heavily influenced by dietary factors. This could mean certain emotional states have deeper nutritional influencers at work.
Stress eating can also cause:
- Weight gain
- Poor sleep
- Brain fog
- Metabolic dysfunction
Over time, stress eating leads to chronically high blood sugar, metabolic dysfunction, elevated cortisol, and hormone imbalance– all of which lead to overwhelming symptoms or chronic disease.
I go through all of this and more in my Metabolism and Hormone Reset Course, so you’ll know what influences your metabolic health, and how to avoid these unwanted conditions.
Causes and Signs of Stress Eating
We all have different sources of stress we encounter regularly, from social stressors, to diet and exercise issues, to sleeping problems, and more.
And when we face all these stressors in our day to day, it can lead to killer cravings.
Factors like sleep, exercise, and fasting can differ from person to person and can lead to different levels of stress. But the more stressed we are, the more we tend to stress eat.
The most common signs of stress eating to be mindful of are:
- Intense physical hunger or cravings for specific foods
- Feeling like you’re “out of control” and more prone to overeating or binge eating
- Feeling over-full from eating larger amounts of food
- Eating despite not feeling hungry and more from negative emotional triggers
- Reaching for unhealthy comfort foods more often than nutrient-dense options
Whatever your temptation may be, it doesn’t do good to “resist” the urges that overwhelm you.
What’s more helpful is setting your body up to reduce triggers and cravings in the first place.
5 Ways to Overcome Stress Eating
The BEST thing you can do to stop stress eating is to develop a few healthy habits.
So, here are 5 surefire strategies to help you end stress-eating-induced cravings.
1) Meet Your Nutrition Needs
As mentioned, imbalanced nutrient intake may lead to heightened cravings.
Some say food cravings can be the body’s subconscious way of filling a nutritional need. So when our body lacks a specific nutrient, it craves foods rich in that nutrient.
Here are a few examples– sometimes chocolate cravings are blamed on low magnesium levels, or cheese cravings are said to be due to low calcium levels.
Some studies have also seen connections between nutrition-related factors impacting glucose and cravings.
Some common nutrition-related stressors are:
- Not eating enough protein
- Eating high amounts of processed or refined carbs
- Missing out on essential fatty acids
- Potential vitamin and mineral imbalances
2) Tune Into Hunger Cues
Ignoring your hunger cues may have negative consequences for your stress hormones as well as your blood sugar regulation.
Some studies suggest waiting until you’re extremely hungry to eat leads to increased stress hormone activation. Ignoring hunger cues may also cause an increased tendency to overeat unhealthy foods.
I’ve seen associations between artificially sweetened foods and increased cravings, as these foods mimic the reward effect of sugar.
When you’re feeling hungry, reach for nutrient-dense whole foods with minimal added sugar and plenty of fiber and protein.
3) Remove Temptation
This can be a tough one– but it’s so necessary! Take stock of your pantry, fridge, and cabinets for junk food. What are your food choices?
If you have too many unhealthy snacks like chips, chocolate bars, or tubs of ice cream on hand, it’s time to do an overhaul and cut out all that sugar.
Replace these snacks with healthier alternatives, like pumpkin seeds, diced vegetables, avocados, and almonds.
4) Practice Emotional Stress Management Techniques
Your emotional state influences your food choices, and food choices influence your emotions. It’s a constant cycle, so fueling your body with healthy foods helps you control your emotions.
Aside from improving your diet to support emotional well-being, here are some behavioral strategies to help manage your emotions:
- Belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing
Research shows deep breathing exercises can be beneficial for your parasympathetic nervous system and may even improve glucose control.
- Set boundaries
In today’s world, it can feel impossible to set healthy boundaries around self-care time. But set realistic expectations for what you can take on, and honor these boundaries.
- Consider a meditation, gratitude, or mindfulness practice in your daily routine Recording your eating habits and practicing gratitude in my Self-Care Journal can go a long way toward healing!
5) Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check
Blood sugar is connected to so many areas that impact cravings and overall metabolism.
Studies show there may be a relationship between poorly controlled glucose and food cravings.
Other factors impacting how our body regulates glucose include:
- Poor sleep
- Poor dietary choices
- High emotional stress
- Under-fueling for workouts
So, to balance your blood sugar:
- Reduce or eliminate added sugar, and make sure you build metabolically-healthy meals– full of lean proteins, fibers, and fats
- Try early time-restricted eating or reverse fasting, meaning you only eat between 7 am and 7 pm, so you’ll stop eating at least 3 hours before bed
- Walk 10-15 minutes after meals, especially after dinner
- Improve your sleep hygiene
- Add a blood sugar-balancing supplement like Gluco Support to your daily regimen
The Bottom Line
Stress can present in our bodies in many ways, but it’s essential to recognize when stress is causing us to eat, rather than eating when we’re hungry.
Following the tips from this blog will help you kick those killer cravings to the curb when they arise. And when you stick to healthy habits like these, you set yourself up for success.
That’s why I’m inviting you to join me in my Metabolism and Hormone Reset Course! This step-by-step blueprint helps you tune into YOUR BODY so you can jumpstart your metabolism and increase your energy levels.
It’s time to feel lighter, more energetic, and less stressed. So you can show up for others every day, and more importantly–for yourself! I can’t wait to see you in the course.