Food is often a source of comfort for many of us when we are stressed. Our brains are hard-wired to appreciate the flavors of sweet and salt. Sugar will stimulate the reward centers in our brain, making us feel temporarily “happy”. But this feeling is short-lived. With the sugar highs, comes the sugar crashes. Before we know it we are on a roller coaster and do not know how to stop the ride.
Unfortunately, this also sets up a negative feed-back loop in your brain. Sugar is highly addictive and some studies suggest that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Your brain will actually begin to crave it and send out signals that it “needs” it. This happens especially in times of stress when your brain is looking for some type of relief.
We, as humans, often will move towards pleasure and away from pain. Because stress is painful, we are looking to move away from the stressful situation and towards something that will make us feel better. If we have taught ourselves that sugar means pleasure, then that is what we will tend to move towards.
Sugar laden foods are everywhere. They are cheap, easy to find, and taste good. However, every time you stress eat, you are reinforcing this pathological feed-back loop, making it harder and harder to break the pattern.
Excess sugar consumption can lead to obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and many more serious health conditions. With the current pandemic having increase morbidity in these very health conditions, now is more important than ever to get bad eating habits under control.
When you find yourself cravings foods during times of stress, do your best to not give in to the cravings. It will be difficult at first, as the impulses will be strong. However, the more you resist, the easier it becomes. As with any addiction, the only solution is to break the pattern.
Building new, healthy responses to stress is key during this time. You will need to build new healthy, neurological pathways and literally retrain your brain. Instead of going to the fridge, try going for a 15-20 minute walk, deep breathing for 15-20 minutes, writing in a journal, or any other healthy activity that makes you feel relaxed. Each time you do something other than stress eat, you are breaking that negative feed-back loop and replacing it with a positive one. Eventually your brain will stop sending the “feed me” signals and instead you will automatically take a deep breath, go for a walk, or what ever you have trained your brain and body to do.