Why Stress Makes Us Overeat and How To Fix It

I hope you had a great weekend! Coming back to reality can be stressful if you’re not prepared for it.

Just like bodies in motion stay in motion – when we get into a rut, it becomes easier to stay in a rut.

When you fall into the habit of overeating it gets easier to repeat that behavior. One binge can lead to three.

One episode of late night emotional eating can lead to a whole week of late night emotional eating.

When our brain is under stress there is a vicious cycle that gets created. In a study of chronically stressed rats the brains atrophied in the areas of decision making, while becoming overly developed in the area of habit formation.

Scientists note that behaviors become habitually faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach. <--- A.K.A. a vicious cycle.

This might explain why when we’re under stress we abandon all that we know – and all that we consciously want to do and fall back into old habits.

Scientists note that we’re lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. Our response is usually to do it five times more, instead of thinking, maybe it’s time to try something new. <--- A.K.A. the definition of insanity --> Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

So, even though overeating doesn’t really help us feel better, we can’t stop ourselves from continuing to do it because we’re used to doing that when we we’re stressed. It’s simply how our brains are wired to act when we’re under stress.

Although stress is a huge killer and leads to many diseases it’s also necessary for us to survive.

Fortunately, we no longer stress about what our ancestors did.

Our bodies have the most complex systems on Earth. What’s the benefit of our brain being prone to habit formation anyway? (I’m a nerd. I think about these things.)

Perhaps to help shift as many behaviors as possible over to automatic pilot so we can better focus on the crisis at hand.

And even if the crisis at hand is our boss yelling at us or our kids being disrespectful – if we feel stressed, we’re stressed. Perception is reality.

What to do?

Besides, taking a vacation and changing up your routine for a bit which can rewire your brain there is also a big opportunity for us to change.

If you can plan ahead what you’ll do before you’re stressed and actually start doing it when you’re stressed it’ll become a habit as well.

Our biggest opportunities for growth are always when we’re most uncomfortable.

Here are 5 ideas:

1. Listen to music.

2. Gather a few favorite emails or youtube videos that make you smile and read and watch the videos when you’re stressed. Be sure to save them all in one place so they’re easy to get to.

3. Get up. Take a big deep breath. Go for a 15 minute walk.

4. Read a juicy gossip blog that might make you feel otherwise guilty for doing so. (You’ll feel way less guilty reading than eating!)

5. Call your favorite person.

Pick one and try it next time. But instead of stressing how you’re actually going to do this each time you’re stressed, let’s make it simple: The very next time you feel stressed, try one of these. That’s it.

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