Stress can bring out some impulsive thoughts. Some are irrational, such as submitting your resignation letter in the dead of night or creating a new identity to start over. But most of the time, being caught in a sticky situation leads you to stress eating. It’s a common way to cope with overwhelming emotions if you can control it.
In Malaysia, people are experiencing more stress after the pandemic hit. According to a survey from Rakuten Insights in 2022, 56% of Malaysians aged between 25-34 years have had higher stress levels in the past 12 months. This indicates that stress isn’t something you can easily brush off. Here are the effects of eating when stressed and ways to kick the habit for good.
Stress Eating Effects on Health
There’s actually more science to your stress eating tendencies. As stress level increases, your body releases more cortisol, which can lead to a spike in appetite. Researchers also find that binge eating sugar and carb can increase dopamine that activates the pleasure systems in the brain.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Anita Pee – a featured expert at All Things Health – explains more about stress eating. She says that stress gives rise to Liver Qi (vital energy) stagnation, obstructing blood and qi circulation in the spleen and stomach. It weakens the digestive system and makes you prone to stress eating.
Stress eating is just like healing bullet wounds with band-aids – you’ll keep doing it endlessly without fixing the problem. It’s linked to weight gain, which can cause more stress in some people. Separately, sleep deprivation can bring about stress and put you at risk of obesity and metabolic diseases. It can also make you predisposed to cardiovascular conditions or type-2 diabetes.
How to Overcome Stress Eating
The main objectives are managing stress and developing a healthy relationship with food. Instead of taking diet pills or going on a crash diet, follow these steps to help you break free from the stress eating cycle.
Keep calm with self-care activities
Spend time focusing on yourself. You can do so by doing a single-person activity that suits your hobby, such as crocheting, painting, cooking, or reading. This is called active meditation. Studies show that meditation helps alleviate stress, especially among people vulnerable to developing hypertension or heart disease. It may also help you become more mindful of your dietary choices.
Another great way to quiet your mind is physical exercise. Workouts with different levels of intensity and duration may change your body’s cortisol levels. Exercises like yoga, tai chi, and cardio may ease some of stress’ negative implications.
Don’t make food your enemy
There is no shame in loving food. Sometimes, giving in to the longing for certain foods makes us human. Turning your back on good food and forcing yourself to eat only salads will make you feel worse. If you feel the need to snack, consider options that are lower in fat and calorie content.
Have a sweet tooth? Apple slices coated in nut butter are delicious and contain generous amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. You can also snack on spicy roasted chickpeas for a high-fibre and protein combination.
Improve qi and blood circulation
It might be good to visit a TCM clinic and book an acupuncture session. Physician Pee explains, “People often become more relaxed after an acupuncture session. Being consistent with the treatment regime will help them handle stress better.”
Acupuncture is a trusted method to ease stress and promote optimal qi and blood circulation. It can also modulate appetite by strengthening the spleen and stomach.
You can perform a simple acupressure massage at home too. Use your fingers to massage these points with light to medium pressure for a few minutes:
- Tai chong (LV3, 太沖)
- Bai hui (GV20, 百会)
- Shen men (HT7, 神门)
Each of these points works well in reducing the effects of stress, but can also soothe Liver qi, calm the mind, and lessen anxiety respectively.
Physician Pee usually recommends herbs like Bupleurum root (chai hu, 柴胡) and Rhizoma Cyperi (xiang fu, 香附) to soothe Liver qi, and Cassia seeds (jue ming zi, 决明子) and lotus leaves (he ye, 荷叶) for appetite control to patients who want to stop stress eating. In addition, she says drinking tea infused with rosebuds (mei gui hua, 玫瑰花) also helps achieve peace of mind. Before taking any herbs as remedies, always consult with a professional TCM practitioner.
Everyone has their own way of dealing with emotions. Take comfort in knowing that a few simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping you stop stress eating. Visit All Things Health Malaysia to learn more about TCM practices for better physical and mental well-being.
**The facts and views expressed are solely that of the author/authors and do not necessarily reflect that of the editorial board. Kindly seek prior medical advice.
National Library of Medicine. 2014. Stress and Eating Behaviors. [Accessed 1 June 2022] Harvard Health Publishing. 2021. Why stress causes people to overeat. [Accessed 1 June 2022]
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Tips to Manage Stress Eating. [Accessed 1 June 2022] Healthworks. 1 Month of Snacking: 31 Wholesome & Satisfying Snacks to Keep Your Cravings at Bay. [Accessed 1 June 2022]
Statista. 2022. Share of people suffering from higher level of stress or anxiety during the past year in Malaysia as of May 2022, by age group. [Accessed 19 October 2022]