Breaths, Not Bites

Relax


Have you ever heard the term “stress-eating”? You may have noticed that during times of stress you eat more than you normally do, or you eat food just because it’s in front of you. The concept of stress-eating is a real phenomenon.

Why do people eat more when they are stressed? It has to do with the stress hormone cortisol. The hormones leptin and insulin tell your body when your stomach is full. During times of stress, the stress hormone cortisol can override the “fullness” hormones, causing you to eat more than you normally would.

There’s not much you can do to change this hormonal shift during times of stress. Yet, you can be mindful of how you handle stress and curb stress-eating. This type of eating can lead people to eat unhealthy foods that negatively impact brain health.

Luckily, there are some evidence-based stress reduction techniques that can help reduce the production of stress hormones. Deep breathing works for many people because it’s free and accessible at any time.

Deep breathing exercises help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, controlling relaxation and offsetting the fight-or-flight response. The goal of deep breathing is to focus on slow, deep breaths through the nose, lungs, and stomach, feeling in tune with each inhale and exhale.

If you find yourself feeling stressed and loading up on junk food, sit down and take 10 deep breaths, noticing how your lungs and stomach inflate. Exhale slowly. Continue to count to 10 until you’ve been breathing deeply for about 5 minutes. At the end of the exercise you’ll probably no longer be interested in the snacks in front of you.

References

  • Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91(4), 449–458. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.04.011
  • Jerath, R., & Barnes, V. A. (2009). Augmentation of mind-body therapy and role of deep slow breathing. Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, 6(1), 31. doi: 10.2202/1553-3840.1299