Do you know why we eat more when we are stressed out?

Do you know why we eat more when we are stressed out?

Last Reviewed : 01/05/2021
Do you know why we eat more when we are stressed out?

Have you ever heard of “stress eating”? Did you ever feel craving for some junky foods when you are stressed a night before an exam or when you are anxiously waiting for your results? Did you ever think of why that happens? The craving, called ‘stress eating’, can lead to the gain of some extra pounds to your body. Stress, on the other hand, can lead to loss of appetite. In the next sentences, let us have a look at the mechanism behind it.



The Mechanism

Stress, on a short-term basis, induces the release of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the brain’s hypothalamus. Suppression of appetite is one of many other physiological actions of the hormone. Stress also causes the brain to send signals to the adrenal glands, present superiorly on the kidneys. In a similar vein, adrenal gland, an endocrine gland, secretes catecholamines like norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline). Adrenaline, through sympathetic activation, triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response, thus suppressing appetite.

The human body acts differently when stress persists for longer periods. During this prolonged state, activated adrenal glands work via secreting another stress hormone called ‘Cortisol’. Well, cortisol’s physiology aims to stimulate eating centers and increase appetite, which contributes to ‘stress eating’ and obesity. The body’s stress response declines after a period of time when the body gets relieved of stress. However, if the stress persists for longer periods, chronic states of elevated cortisol may be the case.



Final Notes

In addition to an increase in appetite, stress causes a change in eating behavior. Individuals with stress usually prefer fats and sugars in their foods. They tend to opt for some unhealthy snacks over a healthy diet. This bias could be due to the increased cortisol with high insulin levels.

Upon having a meal full of fats and sugars, there is a feedback inhibition for stress and related activities in the brain, thus relieving stress and providing comfort. Hence, this is called ‘comfort foods’.

According to relevant studies, stress eating is more common in women than in men. Men, unlike women, turn to alcohol when they face a stressful situation. Loss of sleep, no physical activity, and alcohol also contribute to stress-induced obesity. However, there is a way out of this morass. Practicing meditation, regular exercise, and love and care from family and friends help in no small measures in combatting stress. In the end, stress eating is considerably reduced.

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