Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn't go away — or if a person's stress response gets stuck in the "on" position — cortisol may stay elevated. Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible. Other research suggests that ghrelin, a "hunger hormone," may have a role.
Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that dampens stress related responses and emotions. These foods really are "comfort" foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people's stress-induced craving for those foods.
Binge Eating Disorder
Of course, overeating isn't the only stress-related behavior that can add pounds. Stressed people also lose sleep, exercise less, and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to excess weight. Some research suggests a gender difference in stress-coping behavior, with women being more likely to turn to food and men to alcohol or smoking.
And a Finnish study that included over 5, men and women showed that obesity was associated with stress-related eating in women but not in men.
Harvard researchers have reported that stress from work and other sorts of problems correlates with weight gain, but only in those who were overweight at the beginning of the study period. One theory is that overweight people have elevated insulin levels, and stress-related weight gain is more likely to occur in the presence of high insulin.
How much cortisol people produce in response to stress may also factor into the stress—weight gain equation. In , British researchers designed an ingenious study that showed that people who responded to stress with high cortisol levels in an experimental setting were more likely to snack in response to daily hassles in their regular lives than low-cortisol responders. When stress affects someone's appetite and waistline, the individual can forestall further weight gain by ridding the refrigerator and cupboards of high-fat, sugary foods.
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Keeping those "comfort foods" handy is just inviting trouble. Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease.
Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse. In theory, yes, but the temptation to indulge is everywhere , from the occasional birthday cake at work taunting your mid-afternoon cravings to the pint of ice cream you keep crammed into the back corner of your freezer. And while indulging sometimes is all well and good, doing it too often can have health repercussions.
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Overeating is typically associated with junk food, but you can overdo it on the good-for-you foods, too. In fact, Robert Glatter, M. Everyone is different and so are their eating habits. Max Pixel. Your body composition, age, height, how much you move throughout the day, your sleeping patterns, medical conditions, and even your health goals should be taken into consideration when measuring how much is too much, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Grace Derocha told INSIDER.
You'll likely know if you've overeaten. Let's say all of a sudden you experience a hot flash mid-bite, but the food you're eating isn't spicy. Derocha said this kind of unrelated warmth could be a clear indication you've overeaten as your body temperature climbs when you digest.
What's more, Derocha added, if you need to take breaks in order to finish your meal, or loosen your pants to cope with bloating or discomfort, chances are you've eaten too much. But hunger cues — or, in this case, fullness cues — aren't solely physical. Foods high in sugar might be associated with impaired cognitive function.
Five reasons why we overeat
Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Sometimes your cravings get the best of you and two cookies turns into a whole lot more. Overeating happens, and even though it might feel satiating in the moment, taking in an excess amount of food can do some real damage to your insides, Derocha explained. For one, eating too much can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels because your body begins to overcompensate and produce more insulin than usual to keep blood sugar levels at a healthy range. As a result, you might experience headaches, increased thirst, fatigue, or lethargy, Derocha said.
It's also possible that your body will store the excess blood sugar and calories, leading to weight gain. In terms of your actual stomach, Glatter told INSIDER that when you overeat, your digestive organ literally swells, causing bloat, discomfort, even nausea and, in some cases, acid reflux. What's more, when food a long time to break down, your sleep patterns, as well as your brain functionality, can become distorted, too, Derocha added.
Be sure to drink water. First things first, if you do eat too much, remember to be gentle with yourself not just physically, but also mentally, too.