Stress-eating can have a negative impact on your health

Ten Thousand Hours/Getty Images

What is it so difficult to avoid stress eating?

Many of us are all too aware of the symptoms of stress, including headaches, weariness, irritability, and worry. However, according to one doctor, stress also frequently causes odd changes in appetite. According to Gail Saltz, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio, “At first, excessive stress will enhance the release of adrenaline, which can lower your urge to eat.” The hormone cortisol, which is in charge of our bodies’ fight-or-flight reactions, is released by your adrenal glands when stress persists. According to Dr. Saltz, this raises your body’s energy requirements, increasing your appetite and triggering desires for foods high in sugar and fat.

Even so, it can be difficult to stop when you know you should since stress eating has an emotional component. Elise Museles, an eating psychology and nutrition expert and wellness ambassador for Nature Made vitamins and supplements, claims that “for many of us, we grew up understanding that food is a source of comfort.” In order to deal with overwhelming feelings, divert from worried thoughts, and induce a sense of soothing and relaxation, we frequently resort to food even when we are not actually hungry.

Read on for a lot more information on what your desires may be trying to tell you. 12 Common Food Cravings and Their Hidden Health Warnings, According to Nutrition Experts

What occurs when you eat while feeling anxious?

The fact that stress can influence your food preferences is one of the more obvious reasons why stress eating is harmful. It’s so simple—and satisfying—to mindlessly snack on junk food when a big deadline is approaching or something personal is weighing on your heart, as Dr. Saltz notes that cortisol drives us to seek out foods heavy in fats and carbohydrates.

But stress can also affect your body physiologically. These procedures may intensify the negative effects of emotional eating and result in the following widely despised bodily and psychological sensations:

Weight gain may result from stress eating.

What’s intriguing is that weight gain isn’t always caused by what you choose to eat. Numerous studies have revealed that cortisol slows down the body’s metabolism even when you eat pretty nutritious foods while you’re under stress. As a result, we store more energy in the form of calories, making it more difficult to lose weight.

In addition, a 2014 study indicated that stress might raise our bodies’ insulin levels, which helps to enhance fat accumulation. The study was published in Biological Psychiatry.

Attempting to Stop Sugar? One Modification Made by a Diabetic Patient Saved His Life

Your digestion suffers when you stress eat.

Cortisol prioritizes survival-oriented bodily processes, such as raising blood sugar levels so that the brain has more energy available to use, in order to assist your body get ready to tackle an impending stressor. The digestive process, for example, can be partially or considerably inhibited along with other processes that, in comparison, are “nonessential” in the face of a threat.

So digestion slows when the gut receives reduced blood flow as a result of this stressful state, Dr. Saltz adds. This hinders the effective movement and processing of food by your GI tract. Because of this, stress eating might cause you to feel full faster than usual and cause bloating, nausea, and constipation. To assist you become more regular, it can be worth increasing your intake of fiber or talking to your doctor about a probiotic pill if de-stressing doesn’t improve your stomach issues.

Read Why Many Shoppers and Nutrition Experts Say Culturelle Probiotic Is the Best for more information.

Long-term gut troubles might result from digestive difficulties.

Constipation brought on by stress can occasionally be resolved by the body, but continuous stress causes damage, according to Museles. She notes that over time, “all this stress doesn’t only affect digestion; it may seriously harm it, damaging the lining of your stomach.”

The cost of this harm is explained by research that was published in the Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and detrimental alterations to the gut microbiome are all linked to chronic stress, according to one study.

Read Gut Health Research’s Types of Probiotics and How to Choose the Best One for Your Needs.

Eating under stress might cause heartburn.

Your body begins manufacturing more stomach acid in an effort to speed things up when your stressed GI system takes longer than usual to digest food. Because of this, if you’ve been stress eating, especially if you’re consuming items that are known to cause heartburn, you may have heartburn or indigestion.

According to study that was published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, if your stress is ongoing, these elevated amounts of stomach acid can begin to harm the lining of your gut and may cause disorders like GERD.

What’s the difference between acid reflux, heartburn, and gerd?

Your immune system may be impacted by stress eating.

According to Museles, “stress is the ultimate anti-nutrient.” Even if you stuff yourself full of healthy food, cortisol will prevent your body from absorbing and storing those nutrients if you’re under stress while you eat.

According to studies published in Advances in Nutrition, stress specifically depletes levels of magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, and niacin. A variety of chronic disorders are made more likely by impaired nutrient absorption over time, and it can also put you at higher risk for infections and illnesses in the short term. When to eat can be helpful; read Dietitians Just Disclosed 6 Tips to Improve Vitamin D Absorption in Your Gut

Getting rid of stress eating

Life will inevitably involve stress, thus it’s possible that we may all experience stress eating at some point. However, according to Dr. Saltz, what you eat while you’re stressed out matters. Although you might crave them, eating high-sugar, high-carb, and high-fat foods “could help you feel less anxious in the moment, but then the sugar spike in the blood that’s caused might make you feel worse,” according to the expert.

Craving Sugar to read? You May Need More of This Surprising Nutrient, a Dietitian Says

Research has also indicated that eating the correct foods can generally aid to lower stress. In general, participants who eat more fruits and vegetables reported feeling less stressed overall, according to a 2021 peer-reviewed study that was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. According to Museles, “complex carbohydrates (which include fruits and vegetables) boost availability of the feel-good chemical serotonin,” and “foods high in magnesium may aid sleep and relaxation.” Foods high in selenium, like lentils or Brazil nuts, are known to support anxiety.

Here are 11 other foods that can help you feel less stressed the next time you want to stress eat.

Also, learn more about these 7 psychological techniques to put an end to emotional eating.

For wellness advice that fits your life, sign up for The Healthy newsletter. Continue reading and connect with us on Facebook and Instagram.

Eating psychology experts discussed five ways stress eating affects gut health, mood, and more in an article that first featured on The Healthy.