Does stress eating reduce stress?

As we get older, life comes with more responsibilities and stresses.

Stress is a physical tension in reaction to possible threats. Our bodies are systematically designed to go into “fight of flight” mode when presented with stressful situations, good or bad. Stress can be a good thing, in which it causes you to get things done before a deadline. Contrarily, stress can be a bad thing when prolonged or when the body is put under extreme amounts of stress in short periods of time. When our bodies enter “fight or flight” mode, hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are released. According to Melissa McCreery, PhD., in an interview with CNN, we reach for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s when stressed due to the release of cortisol, which controls the body’s appetite.

Although cortisol is released during stressful times in all humans, some people lose their appetite when stressed, and others turn to substances other than food to cure the stress. Gender differences can create more stress eating in woman compared to men. Woman tend to eat when faced with stressful situations whereas men tend to drink to suppress the stress. But the question that is being asked is: does turning to food or another substance actually help to reduce the stress in our lives?

Eating certain types of foods increase our weight gain when stressed, and therefore could possibly increase the stress more. Other foods, such as leafy greens, have been said to decrease stress. Green leafy vegetables contain folate which was shown to lower depression in a study, that was published in the Journal of Affective Disroders. The study consisted of 4,500 people, which is a large enough study to rule out any results being determined by chance, studied the effects of eating greens that are high in folate on emotional symptoms.

Unfortunately, the study only examined people between the aged of 45-74 years old.

According to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, college aged students’ emotional health rated extremely low, accompanied by extreme levels of stress. I feel that the age rage that was studied above, including people that are in retirement, does not give a good depiction of the American stress epidemic. When searching for studies that show how leafy greens affected the stress levels of college aged students, there were insignificant studies that only showed the relationship between stress and weight gain, and no studies that directly looked at the relationship between eating healthy foods or unhealthy foods and the level of stress afterwards.

Therefore, many more studies, including a meta-analysis, need to be conducted to show whether the idea of stress eating, such as reaching for the pint of Ben & Jerry’s after a break up, makes us feel any less stressed.


2 thoughts on “Does stress eating reduce stress?

  1. Amanda Grace Thieu

    My entire life revolved around stress eating. I found myself trying to eat more because I was feeling empty. The taste of the foods made me feel happier because they tasted so good. I usually never ate for the reason that I was hungry. I would sometimes skip meals because I was gaining too much weight stress eating and it was just a vicious cycle. This entire cycle prolonged for way too long and I was more stress from eating than I originally was. Now that I’m in college I’m determined to become healthier and stay away from fast foods. It’s hard trying to adapt to a new environment especially as a freshman to also trying to focus on a good diet and trying not to stress.

  2. Annalise Marie Pilitowski

    Its funny that I came across this post because earlier (as i sit here stressing over trying to get my blogs done the night before they’re do) I was super stressed out and was trying to figure out what to eat. I wasn’t resulting to eating to relieve my stress, but just because I hadn’t eaten all day and thought I could use a little break. My stress actually took over me as I became even more stressed because I couldn’t decide on what to eat. So i actually ended up searching “what foods relieve stress”. And I found exactly what you mentioned, that foods such as leafy greens are helpful, so I made myself a nice refreshing salad. I find it interesting however that when researching foods that help reduce stress, lots of options come up, but there are no studies that actually prove it to be true, especially in the teenage years when people are the most stressed. There are however ways to reduce stress that do not involve eating as mentioned here.

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