Weight Loss Wednesday: Stress and Food




What is stress? According the dictionary, it is anything that causes physical or emotional tension or a state of tension resulting from a stress. It’s also that sweaty palms, weak-kneed, vision-clouding haze that spreads over you and reduces you from a high-functioning adult to a squishy little mess in less than five minutes. It was evolutionarily designed this way so that we would be alert in times of immediate danger. In today’s world, it still serves this purpose, provoking a response whenever the balance in any of the areas of our lives is too badly upset. However, one could argue that stress is less adaptive in today’s society, as we are less likely to be eaten by a predator at any given point.  Thus, stress usually is more of a hindrance than a help. In short, stress sucks.

Stress also has the lovely benefit of affecting our eating. In fact, 4 out of 5 people surveyed admitted to changing their eating habits when stressed. Many, especially those subject to chronic stress, tend to eat foods that they find comforting at these times, including favorites from childhood, like candy and ice cream. These foods, which have a higher sugar and fat content than our normal healthy diet does, activates the brain’s reward system. The brain makes a connection between stress reduction and comfort foods, thus reinforcing the pattern of stress eating and its use as a coping mechanism in the future.


While stress eating may feel good in the short-term, long term stress eating can lead to many negative health consequences, such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Thus, it isn’t the best method for dealing with stress. Instead, deal with the root of the problem- knock out the stress. Ask yourself what’s really stressing you out. Once you’ve isolated the source of your stress, don’t head for the fridge. Instead, stop your waistline and your sanity by using one of the following strategies:

  1. Get to the root: directly address the problem causing the stress. Plan a way to attack or solve it, and write it down. Need advice? Consult friends and family.

  2. Re-frame it: Find a way to think of the stressor in a positive light or diminish the amount of negative emotions related to the stressor, such as viewing a trying situation at work as a learning experience that will help in the long-term. Writing about the stress often helps.

  3. Put It Down:   Find a way of distracting yourself from the stress that does not involve food. My favorites include reading, taking a walk and any kind of hands-on arts and crafts.

By learning to cope with your stress, you will be less likely to reach for foods for comfort. Thus, you will have better adherence to your long term nutrition and health goals, which will help you reach your goals more quickly. So the next time stress hits, remember these tips and act, don’t snack.