Stressed Out and Craving Fatty or Sugary Foods? Here’s why!

As a culture we’ve become obsessed with food.  It has become a vehicle not only for nutrition but to create community, to explore different cultures, and also to satisfy emotional cues.  We have begun identifying ourselves by what we consume as opposed to who we are.  We fall in line with a labels like Paleo, Veganism, Foodies, sugar fiends, and salt fiends to name a few and all of a sudden it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that we crave these foods and experiences and tastes.  We defend these labels that we’ve placed on ourselves with extreme religiousness.  When was the last time you saw someone on a specific diet launch off about how good their diet is in comparison to yours or others?  It is as if they want to convert you over to their diet!  Over the past years we’ve never advocated a diet system because ultimately they all have flaws.  The resounding truth behind all nutrition systems is that eating less processed foods, and a well rounded diet is best.  Cravings are what affects most of us in this day and age.  How many of us in the past week have thought of eating a piece of chocolate or a bag of chips and craved it like a long lost romantic relationship?

Let’s dig deeper down into the research on why our bodies crave certain foods.  High fat foods and inactivity have been blamed for obesity in our society but there is a key physiological reason why we crave these things.  Ask yourself the following questions:

1) When was the last time I craved something either salty, sweet, or high in fat?

2) How were my emotions before this craving?  Was I stressed out, exhausted, or frustrated?

A recent study was published on the relationship between eating high-calorie foods and a person’s stress levels and found that they were related.  People tend to go for high fat foods, sweets, and overtly salty things if they are experiencing physical and emotional stress.  Part of the study focused showing posters to people that had themes of adversity or harsh environments and seeing which snack choices they would pick.  If given the choice, the people who were exposed to stressful images would pick what they thought were higher calorie foods for snacks.  People who were exposed to calming images were more likely to pick what they thought were lower calorie snacks if given the choice.  Calories are good for our body, it’s energy, but when we are stressed our instinct is to store as much calories as possible incase there is less food available in the future.  If we think about the bigger lifestyle picture and ask ourselves what happens when we experience chronic stresses like financial, family, or relationships and how this affects our eating patterns we begin to see an even bigger issue at hand.  Most of us also do not live in an economical situation in which there is less food available.  Let’s face it fast food joints that are open 24 hours and “snacks” that costs less than a dollar but have the same caloric value as a full meal aren’t going anywhere.  So we’re caught in this cycle of stress and stress eating if we’re not careful.

Another study talks about how removing a high fat diet without removing the external stress is not ideal since it causes relapse if the high fat food is available again.  So clearing the fridge and pantry from all the bad foods and saying we’re never going to eat them again doesn’t work if we don’t deal with the root cause of why we seek them.  The proverbial elephant in the room isn’t what we eat for most people, it’s our lifestyle.  If we don’t find tools to reduce and alleviate some of the stress then our bodies will continually crave these foods.  Also remember that eating healthy includes fats and carbohydrates as long as they’re nutrient dense and healthy.

Next time you find yourself craving something high in calories try and identify your mental and emotional state.  Find tools and stress coping mechanisms like taking some time off for yourself, maybe go to the gym or go for a walk to re-shift your mind and refocus.  It’s always good to establish a network of friends that you can count on and talk to about the deeper things in life too.  Surround those conversations with activities that aren’t just heading out for drinks or food.  The goal is to become tuned to our mental and emotional states and find ways to live a more complete life free of things that hold us down!

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About Chris Tse

I’m a scientist turned owner of Blitz Conditioning, a Fitness Columnist at CBC Radio on Thursdays at 8:20 am, and owner of Tse Social Strategy. Follow me on Twitter or Read my full bio.

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