Stress impacts our bodies in numerous ways, from tension headaches to trouble sleeping. It also affects our APPETITE! On some nights before a big test or work presentation, we can go through a bag of Cheetos or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in no time. But in other nerve-wracking situations, we lose our appetite completely. What gives? Turns out there are both psychological and physiological factors at play.
Why Can’t I Stop Eating?
While today’s world isn’t full of threats that provoke a fight or flight response, we still face plenty of stressors. In fact, 75 percent of Americans experience regular stress, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. The same survey found that one in three Americans turns to food when stressed (nope, you’re not the only one). Even though a pint of ice cream may help to soothe our troubles at the time, the effects of making us feel better are very temporary. One study for example, found that chocolate boosted people’s moods, but only for three minutes.
Long-term stress leads to increased levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. Most of us have heard of “cortisol” related to causing the body to store more BELLY FAT! And there’s more bad news where that came from…a number of studies show that cortisol also entices us to eat more, especially comfort foods, which DO boost dopamine levels. Another part of this equation however is that we need to eat more and more comfort food to achieve the same dopamine-boosting effect over time.
Where did My Appetite Go?
Our ancestors often had to make split-second decisions to stand their ground or flee as fast as possible—like when that bear smelled the delicious food they were cooking. But even in our modern world, there are plenty of triggers that can spike our anxiety and elicit that same FIGHT or FLIGHT reaction.
In these moments, the body releases adrenaline, which ultimately gives us a boost of energy and slows down a number of other body processes, including digestion. So as a result, you’re less likely to feel hungry even when your body needs to eat.
What to do about all this STRESS?
BOTTOM LINE: We all need to relax!
This however seems to be easier said than done. But learning to decrease our individual stress levels whether it’s through calming meditation or getting the stress worked OUT with a hardcore workout, can help immensely to control the body’s hormones and keep the APPETITE UNDER CONTROL!
If you notice you’ve LOST your appetite, it may be helpful to plan meals—what you’ll eat and when you’ll eat it—in advance. Also make sure you have HEALTHY SNACKS stored in your bag or desk so you can eat the RIGHT things throughout the day that will help to keep your metabolism high and prevent binge eating later on.
One tip for reducing stress that many of us could start practicing…start your day with a BUFFER of CALM “ME” TIME. This means that when you get up, take a few minutes for a quiet activity you really like, such as meditating, stretching, or writing a few thoughts in a journal (preferably not a journal phone app). By choosing to do this first thing in the morning, you are setting the mood that you want to carry with you throughout the rest of the day. Plus, having an enjoyable morning ritual is also a great trick to keep you from hitting the snooze button a few too many times!