Reduce Stress Eating

Reduce Stress Eating

How Does Stress Affect Eating?

People respond to stress in different ways.1 Some respond by overeating, others by undereating, and yet others respond by changing the way they sleep or socialize. Studies show that approximately 40% of individuals increase their caloric intake under stress, 40% decrease their caloric intake, and the remaining 20% do not change their eating behaviors with stress. In addition to affecting the amount of food people eat, stress also affects the type of food people choose to eat. Research has observed that stress prompts both people and animals to eat foods that are especially palatable, usually high in fat and sugar content. The craving for pleasurable and densely caloric foods is true during stress even in the absence of hunger. These observations suggest that stress promotes irregular eating patterns and hedonic overeating and can encourage excessive weight gain over time.

The way stress affects eating patterns concur with how stress has been shown to negatively affect metabolic health.2,3 Various studies find that stress is associated with numerous metabolic disorders such as diabetes2 and with increase in risk of obesity. People who experienced wide range of chronic stressors including finance-, work- and health-related stressors are found to have higher body mass index, waist circumference, triglycerides, indicators of insulin resistance, and increased risk of developing impaired glucose tolerance.3


How Do You Manage Stress Without Stress Eating?

There are numerous ways to help reduce stress including engaging in physical activity, socializing, getting sleep, practicing relaxation techniques, mindfulness exercises, and many others. Below are few tips on managing stress and stress eating.


Adequate Sleep Is Essential – Chronic sleep deprivation can become a significant life stressor that contributes negatively to metabolic health.1 In addition, given the strong association between quality and quantity of sleep with eating behaviors, getting adequate sleep is essential in both reducing stress and combating stress eating. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation disrupts hormones and is associated with irregular and unhealthy eating behaviors as well as obesity.4,5 Everyone’s sleep needs are different, but studies have shown that getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is associated with improved eating pattern while 3.75-5.5 hours of sleep is associated with unhealthy eating patterns.6


Mindful Eating – Mindfulness practices and interventions, along with other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, have been shown to be effective in reducing stress.7,8 These practices focus on being focused and aware of the present rather than worrying about the future. More specifically, “mindful eating” has gained attention in combating stress eating. It involves consciously choosing foods to eat, being aware of the difference between physical and emotional hunger, recognizing signs of satiety, and enjoying food in the present moment with all senses. Studies are beginning to show that mindfulness practices and mindful eating can improve emotional regulation and promote healthier eating patterns. Before grabbing a snack when you are under stress, ask yourself – Am I truly hungry? Are there healthier snacks I can eat? Will stress eating help combat the stressors in my life?


Social Support – Humans are social beings by nature, and the strength of social support can greatly influence how an individual responds to acute and chronic stressors in life.9 Studies have demonstrated that individuals with high-quality positive social support often experience better physical and mental well-being and show greater psychological resilience. Having support available from trusted friends, families, groups, and communities is extremely important in helping individuals combat stressors in life and can promote healthy ways to reduce stress rather than reliance on stress eating. In addition, although large social gatherings can promote overeating, supportive group settings can facilitate norms for healthy eating patterns.10

1. Yau YHC, Potenza MN. Stress and Eating Behaviors. Minerva Endocrinol. 2013;38(3):255-267.
2. Kivimäki M, Bartolomucci A, Kawachi I. The Multiple Roles of Life Stress in Metabolic Disorders. Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2023;19(1):10-27. doi:10.1038/s41574-022-00746-8
3. Pyykkönen AJ, Räikkönen K, Tuomi T, Eriksson JG, Groop L, Isomaa B. Stressful Life Events and the Metabolic Syndrome: The Prevalence, Prediction and Prevention of Diabetes (PPP)-Botnia Study. Diabetes Care. 2009;33(2):378-384. doi:10.2337/dc09-1027
4. Jackson CL, Redline S, Emmons KM. Sleep as a Potential Fundamental Contributor to Disparities in Cardiovascular Health. Annu Rev Public Health. 2015;36(1):417-440. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122838
5. St-Onge MP, Zuraikat FM. Reciprocal Roles of Sleep and Diet in Cardiovascular Health: a Review of Recent Evidence and a Potential Mechanism. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2019;21(3):11. doi:10.1007/s11883-019-0772-z
6. Al Khatib HK, Harding SV, Darzi J, Pot GK. The Effects of Partial Sleep Deprivation on Energy Balance: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;71(5):614-624. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2016.201
7. Morillo‐Sarto H, López‐del‐Hoyo Y, Pérez‐Aranda A, et al. ‘Mindful Eating’ for Reducing Emotional Eating in Patients with Overweight or Obesity in Primary Care Settings: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2023;31(2):303-319. doi:10.1002/erv.2958
8. Radin RM, Epel ES, Daubenmier J, et al. Do Stress Eating or Compulsive Eating Influence Metabolic Health in a Mindful Eating Intervention? Health Psychol. 2020;39(2):147-158. doi:10.1037/hea0000807
9. Ozbay F, Johnson DC, Dimoulas E, Morgan CA, Charney D, Southwick S. Social Support and Resilience to Stress. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2007;4(5):35-40. 10. Higgs S. Social Norms and Their Influence on Eating Behaviours. Appetite. 2015;86:38-44. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.10.021



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