We’ve ALL done it (you know what I’m talking about). What starts off a normal day quickly turns into a nightmare. Your laptop crashed about a day before you were set to back everything up. The dog got into god only knows what and completely ruined your brand new area rug (where do you find carpet shampooers again?) and it looks like your car is breathing it’s very last breath.
As one stress after the other piles on, all you can think about is the giant bowl of ice cream and glass of wine the size of your head that you’re going to attack when you get home.
What is it about junk food and stress that goes so darn well together?
Actually-there's a lot! It’s not just that you love the taste, and it’s not just because it’s comforting. It’s not just a mental craving that you should be able to use good old fashioned willpower to beat. You are literally hard wired to crave junk food when stress levels peak.
Let me explain. Stress isn’t about what’s happening TO you. Stress is all about how you react to what’s happening TO you. When something stresses you out, a reaction happens in your body. You go into what it called the stress response, or General Adaptation Syndrome.
First of all the hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released. These make you hyper aware so you can fight or flee from the stressful situation (you have to remember we evolved when stress was mainly caused by physical danger. These emotional stresses we have today are very different BUT our bodies haven’t yet evolved to deal with them differently so the response hasn’t changed. Keep this in mind as you keep reading).
To make you hyper aware and ready to fight of free, adrenaline and cortisol have to deliver energy to your blood really quickly. They do this by grabbing any of your body’s stored energy (in the form of glucose) they can get their hands on and deliver it to your blood.
Once they get it to the blood insulin is signalled. Insulin’s job is to go to the blood, grab all of that energy (or sugar) and deliver it to the working muscles so they have a continued supply to fight or flee. A few different things then start to happen.
First of all, now that this surge of insulin has taken all the energy (sugar) out of the blood, your body is smart enough to sense that it needs more (to continue dealing with this stress). What will raise your blood sugar faster than anything else? Processed carbs (AKA junk food). Cue that craving (isn’t your body smart?)!
I said there were a few things happening right? The other thing happening is fat storage. Remember I said insulin takes the sugar out of the blood and delivers it to the working muscles so they can fight or flee? And I also said that most stress today is emotional and doesn’t ACTUALLY require us to fight or flee? Well if those muscles aren’t actually working, insulin does its’ other job: stores excess energy (sugar) as fat. Boom.
Your problem with stress eating boils down to two things: cortisol & adrenalin emptying your sugar stores and making you crave more and then insulin storing all of that energy (sugar) as fat.
What Do You Do To Stop It?
First of all, knowledge is power. Now that you KNOW why you have an insane craving for chocolate chip cookie dough when things go sideways at work, you can start to fight it off a little better. You know the stress craving is because of low blood sugar and high stress hormones right? Reducing those stress hormones and raising your blood sugar can both help to reduce the cravings.
To raise your blood sugar you need to eat something. Anything. It doesn’t HAVE to be the junk food you’re craving. The important thing is to work with your body (instead of trying to fight it because biology will win every time). Get into the habit of having an apple every time you get stressed and crave something else. The apple still digests fairly quickly and will help restore your blood sugar to normal. Once your blood sugar is normalized the cravings will either go away or be way less intense. Because you didn’t go for the junk food (which raises blood sugar too much) you won’t have the huge insulin spike and the fat storage. Problem solved.
You can also attempt to lower your stress hormones. This will help stop the craving by stopping the initial blood sugar lowering in the first place. Lifestyle changes like enough sleep, staying hydrated and regular exercise all help with this. In times of acute stress, deep breathing, meditation or journaling have all been proven to help lower those stress hormones. If you’ve never done either, it’s not complicated. Download a free 5 minute app for your smartphone on meditation. It will guide you through some fast, easy & effective meditation exercises. Same goes for deep breathing. Or try journalling. Grab a piece of paper and write down everything that is stressing you out and how you’re feeling about it. You don’t even have to attempt to solve the problem-just getting it out of your head and onto the paper is usually enough to lower the stress response.
That’s it! Now that you know WHY you stress eat (and it’s not your total lack of willpower) you’re much better equipped to handle it and stop all together.
Sending lots of love and (stress free) energy your way!
P.S. Want to start a better way of looking at weight loss and food right now? Download my free Starter Guide For Women Who Just Want To Lose Weight. Link is below :)