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Why Is Eating My First Response to Stress?

Why Is Eating My First Response to Stress?

Is food your quick fix for stress? Do you always turn to snacks when you feel stressed? It is a common practice for people to seek emotional comfort by eating. That is why eating to destress is also known as “emotional eating” or “stress eating.” When you are recovering from substance use disorder (SUD) or a mental health disorder, stress eating may become harmful in many ways. You need to learn healthier coping methods to destress. 

Where Does Stress Come From?

Stress is a common emotion. It most commonly arises from a few situations. The first source is boredom. When people are not living stimulating and active lives, they can feel bored. Many recovering individuals may have more time than before, and a sense of boredom and anxiety may creep in. 

The second common stressor may come from habits in work and life. For example, overwork and demanding tasks may lead to stress. Not living a regular sleep schedule may create stress. Physical fatigue may be a symptom of stress too.

Another major stressor is social relationships. Psychological tendencies to compare the self with others can also introduce stress. Not being able to manage and maintain relationships can be stressful. Many recovering individuals need family-based therapy to destress in this area.

Why Do People Crave Food When Feeling Stressed?

Physiologically speaking, stress may cause the body’s adrenal glands to release a hormone known as cortisol. This hormone then increases glucose in the bloodstream, increasing your brain’s use of glucose. Consequently, you may notice an increase in appetite to compensate for more glucose.

When you crave food when feeling stressed, most likely, you will go for sugary and fatty foods that provide some feelings of pleasure. You can find these comfort food more easily because you don’t need to prepare a healthy meal. These snacks can quickly supply what the brain needs. Sugar alone can appease the mind from agitation, but these snacks’ fatty and sugary content may lead to unhealthy consequences. 

The Risks

Apart from taking in too much sugar, fat, and salt, snacking while feeling stressed may lead to overeating problems. By turning to unhealthy food, you also ignore how to manage your emotions through communication. Essentially, stress eating is a way to escape from healthier stress management.

Over time, stress-eating may also develop into eating disorders. You will become preoccupied with food to the extent that it becomes another addiction. Take binge-eating disorder, for example, which happens quite frequently among people who have completed substance addiction treatment. 

Because stress-eating can be a compulsive behavioral addiction, it impacts the brain in similar ways to substances. This means that your brain will not enter into a phase of healing. Your sobriety progress may be compromised because of eating disorders.

How to Stop Stress-Eating Patterns

If you decide to put a stop to stress-eating patterns during recovery, there are a few steps to follow. First of all, you need to know what your stressors are. What situations tend to make you reach for food? Next time, before you head to the kitchen or pantry, pause and ask yourself what makes you do that.

Once you identify patterns of stressors, you will be able to come up with prevention strategies. Simple things like posting an alarming quote on the pantry door can help. Or ask family members to be accountability partners. 

Next, you should remove all fatty and sugary snack items from the kitchen. Also, do not reserve unhealthy snacks at work or in your car. Meanwhile, you can include healthier snack choices. 

Lastly, you should learn how to replace stress eating with other ways to cope with stress. For example, keeping a journal or calling a friend can greatly help reduce stress. If you have difficulties adopting other coping methods, it is best that you begin working with a health professional.

How to Manage Stress in a Healthy Way

There are many proven methods of stress management. Most importantly, you need to build a wide range of approaches into your daily routine. For example, setting up a time for regular exercise can help your body detox and reduce stress. Eating healthy meals and not skipping them also helps. 

Carving out short segments of time each day to practice mindfulness meditation will make the biggest difference. If you hesitate about these methods, it might be that you do not understand the science behind them. You can work with health professionals to become more educated about stress management methods. 

In sum, stress eating can become a vicious cycle that compromises your recovery progress. If stress eating becomes an untreated eating disorder, you may need to seek treatment for a dual diagnosis. The earlier you curb stress eating and replace it with a healthier habit, the higher your chance of long-term recovery will be.

If you are struggling with unhealthy ways of coping with stress, such as binge eating or social media addiction, you need to work with a mental health professional. There are many therapies that can help you cope with stress. At Mindfuli, we offer a range of evidence-based interventions and exercises, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and virtual support groups. Additionally, treatment can be provided by adding licensed clinical support to the client’s care team. Mindfuli tracks progress toward mental wellness through the use of routine standardized assessments of depression, anxiety, and personal well-being. Our compassionate staff will walk every step with you toward reaching healthy stress management goals. Call us today at (866) 973-4415.

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