Stress Eating Disorder

Apr 22, 2023
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In this blog, we cover the causes and effects of stress eating. You'll learn some strategies that may help combat the negatives of that disorder.

Stress Eating Disorder 


Have you ever found yourself in a highly stressful situation? Odds are that you answered “yes” to that question. It's not a surprise that most Americans find themselves stressed or in stressful situations on a near-daily basis. 

Eating is an incredibly common way to cope with this inundation of stress.  We do this because we are emotionally overwhelmed, which causes the brain and body to look for something to get some release from said situations. 

Stress-eating is a very real and very pesky condition. Stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary “comfort foods” push people toward overeating. 

Researchers have linked weight gain to stress, and according to an American Psychology Association survey, about one-fourth of Americans rate their stress level as 8 or more on a 10-point scale. 

Almost 50% of participants in a study conducted by BMC Public Health identify themselves as stress eaters and up to 68% are subject to overeating when they are in stressful situations. 

 In the short term, stress can shut down appetite. The nervous system sends messages to the adrenal glands atop the kidneys to pump out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline).

Epinephrine helps trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, a revved-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold. Sugary and fatty foods release serotonin that triggers the reward center in the brain and makes us happy in the short term but is highly likely to cause long-term effects that are not aligned with our goals and how we want to look/feel. 

 Luckily Lancaster Wellness can help! We offer weight-loss and dieting programs that benefit our clients in numerous ways. 

If stress persists, the adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol, as well as high insulin levels, are mainly responsible for stress-eating. 

Side effects of stress eating can include the following:  excessive fatigue, increased abdominal fat, feeling out of control, stomach pain, cramping, gastrointestinal issues, isolation and not being able to tell the difference between physical and emotional eating. Emotional eating is eating to suppress or contain negative emotions such as anger, stress, loneliness, boredom, or sadness.  

Some ways to manage stress and in turn keep stress-eating in check are: 

  • Spend time in nature & away from electronics. 
  • Practice mindfulness and yoga 
  • Spend time with friends. 
  • Immerse in a good book! 
  • Exercise 

Some natural appetite suppressants: 

  • Saffron extract 
  • Green tea extract 
  • Grapefruit essential oil (watch for medication interactions) 
  • High fiber-foods 
  • Spicy foods 
  • Ginger 
  • Black Cumin 

Also, it is very beneficial to watch portion sizes! Find healthier alternatives to high-sugar, carb, or fat snacks/meals like oranges! “Peeling citrus fruit is a mini-meditative moment-you have to drop whatever you’re doing to engage both hands,” says Albers.

Even cooler, the smell of citrus has been shown to promote calm-which might just quell your urge to binge on sweets & snacks. Be sure to try to focus on other things instead of eating, and stay out of the kitchen when bored, stressed, or angry. Be sure to prioritize sleep and ensure that you are getting 7-9 hours a night.