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Stress Eating: How to Stop Munching When You’re Under Pressure

Stress eating is a normal occurrence. Taking steps to stop the habit will help prevent unnecessary weight gain or health problems.

Woman eating a doughnut as she sits a table looking at her laptop

If dessert and a glass of wine are what you want after a long, hard day, go for it! Stress eating is a completely normal way to cope with overwhelming emotions. However, it can be detrimental if it goes on for a prolonged period.

Here are the effects of overeating when stressed and ways to kick the habit for good. 

Woman poking a piece of cake with a fork as she looks at it, smiling
You may be naturally inclined towards rich, calorie-laden foods when you’re stressed.

The Impact of Stress Eating on Quality of Life 

Uncontrollable stress can alter eating patterns and increase your desire for hyper-palatable foods – foods which are a combination of various taste-enhancing components. Over time, certain emotions and specific life events may overwhelm you psychologically and provoke compulsive behaviours. The control mechanisms that regulate brain activity may also be affected. Together, these can heighten your cravings for overly rich foods and induce metabolic changes that promote weight gain

Separately, sleep deprivation can bring about stress and put you at risk of obesity and metabolic diseases. It can also make you predisposed to cardiovascular conditions or type 2 diabetes. Two meta-analyses have found that short sleep durations – less than five hours for adults and ten hours for children – are a common predictor of onset obesity.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), stress gives rise to Liver Qi(vital life force) Stagnation, obstructing blood and qi circulation in the Spleen and Stomach. Hence, it weakens the digestive system and makes you prone to stress eating. 

How to Do Away with Stress Eating 

To tackle stress eating and its consequences, it’s advised that you focus on managing stress and relooking why you eat.

Achieve calmness through exercise and meditation 

The intensity and duration of different workouts may change cortisol levels in your body. For the most part, physical activity may ease some of stress’ negative implications.

Studies show that meditation helps alleviate stress, especially among people vulnerable to developing hypertension or heart disease. It may also help you become more mindful of your dietary choices.

Gradually, you’ll become more aware of your impulse to put away high-fat or sugary comfort foods and take the necessary steps to curb the urge. Examples of routines that incorporate elements of movement and meditation are yoga and tai chi.  

Indulge in smaller portions and healthier options 

Sometimes, giving in to the longing for certain foods makes us human. If you feel the need to snack, it’ll be wise to consider options that are lower in fat and calorie content.

Apple slices coated in nut butter can provide generous amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats while whetting your appetite for something sweet, for example. You can also snack on spicy roasted chickpeas for a high-fibre and protein combination.

If you’re consuming pre-packaged foods, check the product label to see the size of one serving, and adhere to the amount stated to prevent overconsumption.

3D illustrations of the tai chong, bai hui and shen men acupressure points
Stimulation of the tai chong, bai hui and shen men acupressure points can relieve stress in distinct ways.

Correct imbalances and encourage better circulation 

Acupuncture has long been used as a means of easing stress and promoting optimal blood and qi circulation. It can also modulate appetite by strengthening the Spleen and Stomach.

“People often become more relaxed after a session of acupuncture. Being consistent with the treatment’s regime will help them handle stress better, avoiding the need to stuff themselves as a form of escapism,” explains Eu Yan Sang Physician Anita Pee.

The acupressure points that can be worked on include tai chong (LV3, 太沖), bai hui (GV20, 百会), and shen men (HT7, 神门). Each of these works well in reducing the effects of stress, but can also soothe Liver qi, calm the mind and quieten anxiety respectively.

Likewise, the use of herbal ingredients can supply the same benefits, as well as suppress your appetite. Physician Anita recommends Bupleurum root (chai hu, 柴胡) and Rhizoma Cyperi (xiang fu, 香附) to soothe Liver qi, and Cassia seeds (jue ming zi, 决明子) and lotus leaves (he ye, 荷叶) for appetite control. Drinking a tea infused with rosebuds (mei gui hua, 玫瑰花) also helps with achieving peace of mind. 

If you feel guilty about stress eating, stop. After all, everyone has their own way of dealing with emotions. Take comfort in knowing that a few simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping you stifle your craving for comfort foods when you’re under pressure.

You may also opt to use traditional remedies but do speak to a licensed TCM practitioner prior to doing so. It will help you identify if specific ingredients are suitable for your body constitution.

References

  1. National Library of Medicine. 2014. Stress and Eating Behaviors. [online] [Accessed 1 June 2022]
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Why stress causes people to overeat. [online] [Accessed 1 June 2022]
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tips to Manage Stress Eating. [online] [Accessed 1 June 2022]
  4. Healthworks. 1 Month of Snacking: 31 Wholesome & Satisfying Snacks to Keep Your Cravings at Bay. [online] [Accessed 1 June 2022] 

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