My Executive


    Nov 08, 2013

    How to deal with stress-eating

    HAVE you ever noticed that the word "desserts" is "stressed" spelled backwards? It is not just a coincidence. A stressed person often turns to food for comfort, an act known as stress-eating.

    But how do you identify a stress-eater and how do you overcome stress-eating?

    Stress-eating can be due to different factors, one of which being cortisol-driven cravings.

    A moderate amount of cortisol, a hormone that you produce when you are stressed, is beneficial to the body.

    However, when the body is exposed to high levels of the hormone over an extended period of time, such as in the case of patients suffering from chronic stress, cortisol can lead to many health problems.

    High levels of the hormone in your blood can lead to cravings, and result in the consumption of large portions of food, more often than not high-calorie, sweet or fatty food.


    Using food as an occasional "pick-me-up" or a reward to celebrate an occasion or achievement is completely normal.

    The problem arises when eating becomes the primary or only way you cope with stress.

    Here are some clues that you might be a stress-eater:

    Do you eat more when you're feeling stressed?

    Do you eat when you're not hungry?

    Do you eat to make yourself feel better?

    Do you often eat beyond the point of fullness?

    Does food make you feel safe?

    Do you feel out of control when it comes to eating?


    Here are tips on how to tackle stress-eating:

    Identify physical and emotional hunger

    Use cues to help you identify emotional hunger by asking yourself questions like "Am I craving a specific type of food? Does the feeling of wanting to eat come on suddenly? Is the eating associated with guilt and lack of control?"

    If you answer "yes" to any of those questions, you are unlikely to be physically hungry.

    Identifying these cues are important steps to helping you manage stress-eating.

    Keep a stress-eating diary

    Much like a conventional diary, keep a log of both your food and mood. For times when you have overeaten, track back to events that led up to the eating.

    If you keep up with it, you will start to see a pattern. Perhaps you tend to gorge yourself a day before a critical deadline, or you may have eaten to relieve the stress of your child's exams.

    Once you are able to identify these triggers, you can slowly work towards a healthier way to handle stress.

    Things you can do (besides eating)

    When you feel stressed, you can call a good friend, go for a walk, spend an afternoon at the library, have a relaxing shower or even fill the room with your favourite scent.

    Learn to eat mindfully

    Know what you are eating, avoid distractions when eating and spend time understanding what you are eating and how it was prepared.

    Whenever a craving hits you, do not tell yourself that you cannot give in to it - that may make you desire the food even more. Instead, try to delay eating for five minutes. While you are waiting, ask yourself: "How am I feeling? Am I really hungry? Do I really have to eat?"

    Even if you end up eating, you will have a better understanding of your feelings in relation to food. This may help you act differently the next time you are in a similar situation.

    There are stressors in our daily life that we may not be able to eliminate. But you can learn to handle stress and not let it overtake your life and your health.

    The writer is a senior dietitian with National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.