Why Stress Causes People to Overeat and What to Do?

Chances are you have heard of the phrase “stress eating.” You probably know of the comforting effects of “Comfort Foods” such as sugary and high fat foods as well. So, indeed, when you feel stressed out, certain stress hormones produce higher than normal levels in the body. In the short term this surge of stress hormones actually suppresses the appetite. This is also know as the fight or flight response. This is when you don’t feel hunger in the middle of a crisis. This is when the brain sends messages to the adrenal glands to pump out the hormone known as adrenaline, a revved-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold. But when you are chronically feeling stressed, it is a different story. Then the adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ram pup motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. So if the stress doesn’t go away or if you don’t know of ways to reduce your bad feelings and your stress response stays stuck in the “on” position, cortisol may stay elevated. High Cortisol level also has been shown to increase the intake of high fat and high sugary foods. Once high sugary or high fat food is taken, they do reduce the activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress, in other words these “comfort foods” really are comforting!!! That is perhaps another reason why people who report having high stress levels crave comfort food, they actually crave not having stress!!

What to do:

  1. Psychotherapy – When you notice that your eating is because of feeling bad not because of the need to eat, then asking the help of a psychologist who is familiar with this pattern can be a life savor. They can help you learn what your stress triggers are and they can help you develop skills to get rid of those triggers, hence your emotional eating will decrease by itself.
  2. Social Support – Receiving support from a support group, friends, family and even social media can have a buffering affect on the stress that people experience.

I am Dr. Katie Dashtban and I specialize in Medical Psychology, where people’s physical and mental health have both been affected by one another. Let me know how I can help you or someone you know. Go to www.medicalpsychologyservice.com or www.gettingpastpain.com. Call 831-621-1150 or 408-458-8222.

This service is provided by Dr. Katie Dashtban, Psy.D.

Katie defines her role as a psychologist as one who holds a guiding light, while her patients choose the turns in this maze we call life. In her practice, Katie refrains from offering advice, but instead helps her patients overcome obstacles that cause emotional suffering, and shows them tools to use when deciding on the desired changes in their lives.