Stress Eating Over The Holidays….And Beyond

Stress Eating Over The Holidays….And Beyond

Stress Eating

I LOVE the Holidays! All of them! However, they can add a layer of additional stress to already busy lives.  Often when this happens, people turn to food. It’s an, almost, unconscious reach for something that makes us feel a little better.


When sugar is consumed, the brain releases serotonin and opioids. These are natural chemicals that lead to a temporary elevation in mood, happiness and feelings of pleasure. Scientific research has shown that sugar stimulates the brain in some of the same ways as heroin and morphine. This  has led many to determine that sugar is an addictive substance. Additionally, the release of cortisol causes cravings for not only sweet, but salty and fatty foods.


Cortisol is a stress hormone secreted by adrenal glands released at times of stressful situations to shut down metabolic processes such as digestion and immunity. This is an automatic action to conserve energy in response to the stress. This reaction is helpful in life or death situations.  The cortisol response mechanism was necessary for our ancestor’s survival when facing a life threatening situation.

Today, the majority of stress in developed countries are from mental and/or emotional stress, not usually life threatening or physical danger. Unfortunately, mental and emotional stress tend to be a constant pressure for many, which increases the cortisol levels and interferes with the body’s metabolic processes by slowing it down.  Resulting in a scenario where one may be eating the same amount of food and calories, but not burning as many calories if the cortisol levels were not elevated.

The effects of increased cortisol levels in the body are both short term and long term.  Some of the short term effects are:

Elevated blood sugar

Reduced ability to burn fat

Hormonal imbalance

Increase in visceral fat (toxic) or abdominal fat

Takes glucose from the muscles, resulting in loss of muscle mass

Increased rate of fat storage

Some of the long term effects can be:






Lower immunity

Neural degeneration


If you are experiencing difficulty falling, and staying, asleep, wake up tired, feel fatigued throughout the day and lack energy, you MAY be experiencing symptoms of elevated cortisol levels.


There are several things one can do to naturally to prevent elevated cortisol levels.  As with many things in life, it’s simple but not easy.

  1.  Eat only when you’re hungry. Fight the urge to grab those extra cookies, chips, alcohol, etc. when you’re under stress. Make a real effort to tune in to WHY you’re eating. Ask yourself, “Am I really hungry right now.”
  2. Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption. Tough during the holidays, but studies show both substances increase the release of cortisol when you’re stressed.  It may not sound like as much fun, but reach for green tea instead of that glass of wine.  It will be worth it.
  3. Get enough sleep! The human body needs enough sleep to recover from stress.
    Image result for how many hours of sleep do adults need
    While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. The average American runs short by approximately 300-400 hours of necessary sleep each year.
    5.  Exercise. Exercise is the BEST method for lowering cortisol levels! Couple that with the added benefit of burning calories to stimulate weight loss and you definitely have a winner!  I would suggest that anything, even a brisk walk, is beneficial. Start exercising at a level you find comfortable and soon you will have the energy to increase the time and duration of your preferred exercise method. Start where you are. A little is better than none.



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Clinical Hypnotherapist specializing in weight loss, confidence, fears, confidence in dating & relationships, public speaking.


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