Why Stress Makes Us Crave Unhealthy Foods

Photo by Kobby Mendez on Unsplash

We’ve all been there—the expenses are coming in, the laundry’s piling up, and it feels like life overall is coming at us faster than we can manage. While we know logically that junk food won’t do much to help, we can’t resist reaching for a bag of potato chips or a carton of ice cream to cope. Well, it turns out there’s a reason that our bodies crave such foods during times of stress, and there are better ways to deal with it than binging on Snickers.

Stress & Hormones

Part of the body’s natural response, when we experience a stressful event, is to release a hormone known as cortisol, which can disrupt our body’s hunger and fullness signals and increase our appetite for high-calorie foods. The next time you feel stressed, try practicing relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing to regulate cortisol levels instead of going straight for the candy aisle.

Emotional Eating

It’s normal to want to seek comfort in times of stress, and one of the easiest ways to do so is through food. Foods that are high in sugar and fat stimulate the brain’s reward center, causing the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine that temporarily make us feel better. Unfortunately, the effect is short-lived, and the inevitable blood sugar crash can quickly lead cortisol levels to spike again. The best way to break this cycle is to replace unhealthy snacks with nutritious alternatives like nuts fruits and veggies.

Mindfulness & Stress Management

In addition to relaxation techniques, mindfulness is one of the best ways to reduce cortisol and tame stress-induced cravings. Mindful eating in particular involves paying close attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of your food as you eat, making it easier to tune into your body’s cues and resist impulsive eating. Regular exercise, sufficient sleep, and a solid social support network can also make a big difference in reducing stress overall.