See Exactly Why You Can’t Stop Stress Eating

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Mental Health

Stress and snacking go together like, well, stress and snacking. When our anxiety levels rise, many of us reach for the nearest box of rusks or sweet treats to take the edge off of the panic. But why does food seem to provide such comfort in times of need?

Well, it turns out that our munching vices might be having the opposite effect. A new study conducted by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney has found that the classic combo of stress and satiating grub could override the brain’s ability to know when you’ve had enough to eat. The result? You’ll gorge yourself long beyond the point you would normally be full.

READ MORE: Social Media is Spiking Your Stress Levels—Here’s Why

There is a caveat, however: this study was conducted on mice. And history has shown that often these findings don’t translate when applied to those on two legs. 

The Science Behind Stress Eating

As part of the study, research observed a group of chronically stressed mice. (Relatable, right?) They found that the part of their brains responsible for switching off the reward response for eating food once you’ve had your fill was strangely silent when they ate while stressing. The mice, in fact, kept wolfing down grub – seemingly for pleasure – without ever satisfying their hunger.

As a result, the strung-out mice were far more likely to indulge than their calm counterparts. 

How Do You Stop Stress Eating?

Stress eating can be a massive thorn in your side if you’re trying to lose weight, so hitting the brakes on this unhealthy habit is one of the most effective changes you can make to your everyday life. But putting a stop to this high-pressure buffet is easier said than done.

Here are a few tips from the MH wheelhouse to help curb your cravings:

1. Hydrate

When stress sees you reaching for the snack draw, a detour via the water cooler might be exactly what you need. A full glass of water can fill you up, taking the sting out of those stress-derived hunger pangs. 

READ MORE: Here’s Why Playing Videogames Might Be Good For Your Brain

2. Hide the Snacks

If you’re someone who keeps your snacks on display, it might be time to go incognito. Research has shown that this sort of visual exposure to high-calorie grub can stimulate your brain into craving every last morsel. 

3. Cook It Yourself

Once you’ve hidden the snacks, it’s time to take your meal plan into your own hands. Studies have found that those who eat home-cooked meals multiple times every week were nearly 30% less likely to be overweight than those deprived of these healthy platefuls. Short on time? Try setting aside a few hours on the weekend for meal prep.

4. Address the Stress

Some stress is to be expected, but when these emotions run off the rails it’s time to get to the root of the problem. Meditation and yoga have both been shown to be proven stress-busters, helping take the fangs out of this otherwise oppressive emotional overload. However, it’s likely you could benefit from a therapy session with a pro. Research has shown that just a few sessions a year could be enough to help most guys tap into a place of inner Zen.

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