Stress eating is a vicious cycle. People get upset or depressed, and then overeat. But afterwards, they can feel upset and depressed because they ate too much. Future overeating is predicted because of the guilt and shame that follows the overeating. Another theory about emotional eating suggests that overeating is a way to “swallow emotions.” Someone doesn’t feel the freedom to express what they deem as negative emotions, and therefore alleviates these feelings by finding comfort through eating. Other reasons for emotional eating include childhood maladaptive behaviors, past trauma, stress, anxiety and depression, and low self-esteem. People can even become addicted to food. Interestingly, binging on sugar and high fat foods can trigger neural pathways similar to those of drug use. Stress eating does not only affect overweight individuals, but also affects those who are underweight. Underweight individuals eat less during periods of stress, while those who are overweight eat more. So, emotional states can affect eating across the weight spectrum.
If stress eating is a problem, here are some simple ways to try to improve your mood:
- Eat green leafy vegetables, which are significant sources of vitamins, including folate. Folate releases serotonin, a “feel good” chemical, which is also found in beans, lentils and broccoli.
- Choose healthy foods and snacks to stabilize your blood sugar. Sugar-laden foods and drinks will cause rapid spikes in sugar levels, which can negatively affect your mood.
- Low Vitamin D levels are linked to depression and mood disorders, so take a 15 minute daily walk in the sun for added Vitamin D and exercise.
- Include foods high in tryptophan, like tofu, chicken, salmon and cashews. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that plays a vital role in producing the mood and sleep regulating neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin.