It’s common knowledge for many of us – especially those of us who actively fight to curb our sweet tooth and impulse to indulge! – that stressful situations can make our cravings for sweet snacks worse.
But now there’s scientific evidence that says that the struggle to avoid stress-eating tasty snacks like chocolate is not just in our heads. Researchers have discovered that eating foods high in sugar content can actually suppress your stress response, making self-medication with sugary foods a reality for many people struggling with stress and anxiety issues(1).
If we aren’t careful, researchers say, this relationship between food and stress can be dangerously habit-forming, leading to eating disorders, obesity, and other related health problems.
A Serious Health Risk
With about 35 percent of adults and nearly 17 percent of children in the United States suffering from obesity, any research that can help us understand what fuels unhealthy eating habits is surely valuable.
While there are many factors that go into how a person eats, from genetics to socio-economic status, the fact is that fully half of the population of the United States consumes products like sugar-sweetened drinks on any given day(2).
According to a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the consumption of these sugary products can be habit-forming, especially if people learn to use them to cope with stress(3).
The combination of sugar consumption and chronic stress can be a particularly dangerous one when it comes to individual and public health, researchers caution.
They concluded that individuals who are under significant amounts of stress may be at a higher risk for developing obesity and obesity-related conditions.
Breaking The Cycle
While the World Health Organization cautions us to cut our sugar intake significantly(4), just how to do that remains a struggle for many, especially those living in areas and situations where sugary, processed foods seem like an easy means of stress relief.
But there are natural means of stress relief that don’t involve downing a package of cookies or a bottle of sugary soda.
One alternative – regular, daily exercise – has been proven time and time again as an effective means of dealing not only with stress, but with chronic anxiety and depression as well(5).
Then there’s simply eating healthier – while it doesn’t feel as good in the short term, in the long term it can help your body deal with stress by bolstering your immune system and making you healthier overall.
So before you reach for a bottle of sweet tea or a candy bar, ask yourself: are you indulging because you’re feeling stressed? If so, make a conscious choice to break the stress-food cycle and try going for a run instead. It may help prevent you from forming dangerous habits in the future.