Overstressed and overeating?

Overstressed and overeating?

People all react in different ways when they are stressed out. Some lose their appetite completely, while others do what is known as ‘stress eating’.

Stress eaters get an insatiable hungry feeling in response to external stressful stimuli. But why does this happen and what are the consequences?

Why do people stress eat?

Eating is pleasurable. This is especially true when we eat delicious, processed food that is designed to be addictive. The sugars, MSG and other flavourings make food addictive because these chemicals cause our brain to release endorphins; feel-good hormones.

According to Science Daily, research funded by the Academy of Finland found that eating leads to a widespread opioid release in the brain. Opioid release, of course, creates feelings of satiety and pleasure. So when you’re stressed, the action of eating itself makes you feel comforted and even happy.

The researchers at Turku PET Centre found that the opioid system regulates eating and appetite, and we have previously found that its dysfunctions are a hallmark of morbid obesity. The present results suggest that overeating may continuously overstimulate the opioid system, thus directly contributing to the development of obesity. This means that the more you eat, the more you will want to eat, the higher the pleasure.


Food can be an addiction. If you eat because it makes you feel good and not  because you are hungry, you may have a food addiction.

Only doctors can diagnose conditions, so if you are concerned about the amount of food that you are consuming daily, speak to your doctor or visit your nearest clinic.

The Medical Society houses experts in nutrition and general well-being.

Self-medication with food

People who suffer from anxiety and even other mental health illnesses like depression will usually ‘eat their feelings’ of angst and sadness by overindulging in comfort foods. This can only lead to more anxiety as the effective euphoria of the food-high is temporary, which can stress the person out even more. This, paired with the horrible side effects of overeating such as obesity, type-2 diabetes and heartburn and gastrointestinal problems can only put a strain on the patient in the long run.

“Atypical depression may be an attempt to self-medicate with food to reduce the stress hormone output, with the unfortunate side effect of visceral obesity,” says Norman Pecoraro, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow.

He told Psychology Today that there is nothing wrong with occasionally comforting your stress with food or other vices. But “seeking a long-term solution in comfort food — rather than fixing the source of the stress or your relationship to the source of the stress — is going to be bad for you.”

How to combat stress without food?

People underestimate just how much of a killer stress really is. Stress is basically the body’s way of physically manifesting the stress or emotional trauma. When external factors cause negative emotions, our body releases a stress hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhances your brain’s use of glucose and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues, explains Mayo Clinic. Cortisol also curbs functions that would be non-essential or detrimental in a fight-or-flight situation and works as a natural, built-in alarm system as a warning that there is a threat.

Stress can cause an array of illnesses, including stomach problems, stiff joints, knotted muscles and painful headaches and migraines.

The number one way to battle stress and its consequent ailments is to find the root of the problem so that you can fix it.

Therapy is a wonderful tool to learn about yourself and combat any stressors that may be ruining your life and mental state. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is stressing me out?
  2. Is there someone in my life that makes me anxious?
  3. When during the day do I feel the unhappiest?
  4. How can I change the situation that is causing me stress?
  5. How do I feel after I overeat?

Resolve to follow the following rules for day-to-day life:

  1. I will only eat when I am hungry
  2. I will exercise once a day and be the most active that I can be.
  3. I will have regular check-ups around issues of my mental well-being and general health.


Exercising in this context is the solution to both of your ailments. It also releases endorphins that combat stress, and uses up any extra energy from anything that you may have overindulged in.

Consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.

Exercise can also improve your sleep. A lack of quality sleep is one of the main issues reported by people who suffer from stress, depression and anxiety, Mayo Clinic explains. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.


Meditation is a great way to get ahead of whatever might be bothering you. Meditation involves a load of introspection which is paramount to find out what’s stressing you out.

A research review published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found meditation helpful for relieving anxiety, pain and depression. For depression, meditation was about as effective as an antidepressant.

Burke Lennihan, a registered nurse and teacher of meditation at the Harvard University Center for Wellness, says: “Meditation will help you lower your blood pressure and can help your creativity, your intuition, your connection with your inner self.”

It has been proven that daily meditation affects the sympathetic nervous system. 

Healthline reports that meditation controls blood pressure by relaxing the nerve signals that coordinate heart function, the tension in blood vessels and the “fight-or-flight” response.

Meditation has many other benefits, particularly on the body. Yes, it helps gain clarity and therefore can alleviate the effects and causes of specific stressors, but there are other, recorded benefits too.

Students who meditate are found to study better and get higher grades for exams. Meditation improves posture by giving awareness of each part of the body. Also, many people have reported better focus and less chronic pain. Less pain, less stress – less need to overeat to feel good again. 

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