We have all heard the term comfort food before, as in “I need to eat a certain dish because I’ve had a stressful day.” Well that happens to be an honest reality and for many, indulging in heavy meals to cope with difficult feelings has led to weight gain and an unhealthy lifestyle. This actually is a much more common phenomenon than most people realize. So much so, that Harvard University recently addressed it on their wellness site.
The Harvard article was actually written by people in their medical department and pointed out some very real scientific links between stress and overeating. For starters, people who deal with consistent stressors can have a physical reaction with their adrenal glands. During certain moments, these glands can release a hormone called cortisol, which has been proven to increase a person’s appetite. And if those moments continue, there could be constant cravings at play.
“Once a specific stressful episode is over, cortisol levels do tend to fall,” the article states. “But if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the ‘on’ position — the cortisol levels may stay elevated.”
Beyond that, the cortisol hormones may actually drive people towards unhealthier food choices. Studies cited by Harvard show that animals who have exhibited symptoms of distress tend to increase their intake of food high in fat or sugar (sometimes both). Once ingested, these “junk foods” have been shown to have a feedback that dampens stress related emotions. As the article emphasizes, these scientific findings actually do add merit to the comfort food theory.
Beyond indulging in ice cream and fast food, stressors do have other links to weight gain. People who are dealing with external pressures tend to exercise less and drink more alcohol, both of which can contribute to increased pounds and an unhealthy lifestyle.
To help curb the habits, the Harvard writers did offer a few tips for people looking to food for support. If there are overwhelming stress factors in your life, the article recommends meditation as a healthier alternative to eating. Jogging and cardio work has been shown to level off cortisol levels as well. Social support is another key avenue for people dealing with heavy stress. Leaning on friends and family can certainly steer a person away from lonely nights of junk food.
Of course if the problem persists and you are seeing noticeable changes in your weight and overall health, our team is more than happy to step in and offer support.