Stress is all around us but especially within us. Modern life is quite stressful for most everybody: from problems with money, healthcare, children or spouses and maybe the most stressful, loneliness and isolation, there are plenty of these things to go around. A lot of us try to cope by turning to stress eating. But does that really help?
I have been under a lot of stress lately, coupled with not an insignificant number of anxiety attacks. I am trying to cope. But unfortunately, the way I do it makes me even more stressed. I either have chocolate for dinner sometimes and I just don’t want to tell you how much strain I put on my body a couple of days ago by ordering some fast food that made me feel worse the next day. I don’t want to use sugar as a crutch anymore. I am trying my best to consume foods that minimize stress.
And I think you, the person who is reading this right now, knows exactly how I feel. According to the Stress in America Survey, an annual survey released by the American Psychological Association, the situation out there is pretty bad. 45 percent of people who responded said that they lay awake at night because of stress. 62 percent said that the political situation is a significant stress factor in their lives. Work, money, health, and personal debt were also major factors in their sleepless nights.
When over a third of American adults turn to stress eating as a coping mechanism, it’s definitely a phenomenon worth looking into. A lot of people turn to comfort food and stress eating it like pros. Alcohol sales have also increased.
But does stress eating work?
Vox.com talked to Dr. A. Janet Tomiyama, an associate professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Lab at UCLA about this very topic. She explained that the scientific community is not 100 percent in consensus when it comes to what stress even means, while stress eating is just a part of the larger category of emotional eating. People can eat when they’re not hungry because of a full scale of emotions, from anger to sadness, to just plain boredom.
Tomiyama mentioned studies in rodents who were stressed and then were fed sugary food. And the results of the studies showed that when stress eating, the lab rats tended to have a lowering of their stress hormones and their brain secreted less of it. But does it work for humans, too? Apparently, yes! She says that “if it’s serving this really important function of actually dampening down our physiological stress level, it warrants a closer look. And we find across several studies, that yeah, it seems to be effective. Not just psychologically, but also biologically — people who do a lot of comfort eating tend to show a reduced level of stress hormones and stress.”
She also warns against demonizing stress eating as a behavior that humans do, because it does help. So there you have it. Maybe I can have that extra tiny chocolate tonight with my dinner.