Why do some of us stress eat?

Why are some of us drawn to food when we're stressed?
03 December 2019


this is a picture of someone eating chocolate cake



Why do some people stress eat?


Giles Yeo took on this question...

Chris- Now, Giles, are you a stressy eater? Do you tend to pack in the calories when you get worried about something or, or do you go the other way?

Giles- I do, a bowl of noodles. I don't want to be backing a stereotype here but yes a bowl of noodles for me.

Chris- Because this is what Amalia says - "Why do some people stress eat?" So why do they? Why do people do that? Because I'm one of them as well. You know, it's a diversion. I'm going to go and get a bowl of noodles or get a bowl of pasta and start to chomping it down, when actually it'd be much better to just get on with the thing I'm having avoidance behaviour and not doing. Why do we eat?

Giles- In short, I don't think we actually fully know. I mean, and this is one of the mysteries, right? Because leaving aside tiger stress, which is obviously everyone responds to tiger stress in the same way. We kind of run like hell, otherwise we'd be dead. But, work stress, everyday stress - we behave in diametrically opposite ways where some people don't eat and some people eat and it's the same hormone, it's cortisol and yet we respond to it completely and absolutely differently.

Chris-  So that's the stress hormone cortisol. You make that when you're worried about things.

Giles-  Exactly, exactly. And it comes up. There are other things that happen as well, but that primarily is it, and we respond in completely different ways. While we don't know for sure, I think being stressed is very unpleasant as we all know and we want to remove that unpleasantness. And so I just think that for some people, including me and you, the eating, you know, eating feels nice and that is a strategy to actually make us feel nice.

Chris-  James?

James- Does adrenaline play any kind of role at all? Cause you think of adrenaline as fight and fright. You wouldn't necessarily sit down for a nice meal if you're being chased by a tiger. But are we talking about chronic stress raising your cortisol or how does that work?

Giles -  Yeah, I'm thinking about chronic stress raising cortisol because I think the flight or fight, you got a big surge of adrenaline and what happens there is you lose all appetite because you're running and sugar just floods into your entire system.

Clare - Okay. But some of us are completely the reverse and do not eat at all when we're stressed. So, what do you reckon the biology behind that is?

Giles - I don't think we actually know for sure, but I just get the feeling that it's going to be down to your strategy for feeling, for removing the unpleasantness of being stressed. I mean, for some people it's bungee jumping. For other people it might be alcohol, maybe it's wine, you know, but I think that's probably what it is, what is your strategy for actually feeling less unpleasant? For me it happens to be a bowl of noodles. And I think that's true for a lot of people in the world of food.


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