The scenario is all too familiar: after working all day you come home to a messy house, the kids are screaming, you fight with your husband, you reluctantly agree to one more favor your sister asks of you, and you STILL have to make dinner and get MORE work finished this evening. By the time the kids go to bed and you’ve finished up the last of your work, you are exhausted, stressed, and looking for comfort. FOOD is calling your name.  

The first issue to understand is why you turn to food. Any of the following could reasons why you are looking at food for comfort: 

Cortisol: When you are stressed, you release the stress hormone cortisol. While cortisol does serve beneficial functions, enabling the body to adapt to any stress or external changes you encounter, when cortisol levels are excessive due to chronic stress, it can result in cravings for sweet and salty foods. The end result can be excess weight gain.

Habit: The majority of people grew up with parents who helped “fix” their problems or celebrate their victories through food; dessert if you were good for the doctor, Mom preparing your favorite meal to celebrate successes, or going to get McDonalds if you were having a bad day. So it only makes sense that if you are feeling stressed, you turn to your favorite comfort foods as a way to cope with your feelings in adulthood as well!

Burying Emotions: There are many people who shy away from confrontation and use food to deal with their frustrations instead. For example, instead of fighting it out with your husband, you would rather forget the problem and have a huge piece of pie. Or if you are unhappy with your boss, heading through the drive thru after work is the perfect way (you feel) to deal with those emotions. Turning to foods that you associate with comfort takes the focus OFF your resentment or anger and temporarily makes you feel better (temporary being the key word).

Whatever your reason for using food to relieve stress, it is not a permanent solution to your problems. When you leave anger, sadness, or guilt unaddressed, those feelings just continue to compound. This is an extremely unhealthy pattern that can lead to serious health problems:

stress management

So how can you deal with your stress without using food?

  1. Face Your Problems. When you confront what is bothering you or make changes in your life to find better satisfaction (find a new job, surround yourself with people who build you up, not bring you down, etc), you are working to lower the stressors in your life. By addressing your stresses upfront, the less you need food in order to cope.
  2. Learn How to Relax. As I mentioned above, cortisol is the hormone released in times of stress that can trigger cravings and lead to a slew of other health problems. Find something that helps you relax; yoga, listening to music, avoid over booking yourself and learn to just say NO, get in a positive frame of mind, or practice deep breathing!
  3. Find Healthier Ways to Cope with Stress: Food does not have to be your only way to cope with stress! Call a friend, read a book, go for a walk, exercise, write it out, or watch a funny movie. Find alternatives that bring joy to your life!

Tune in tomorrow when I address foods that can help improve your mood!