We all know that stress has a negative impact over our health in a variety of ways, which is why doctors commonly recommend avoiding stressful situations as much as possible.
It gets worse, however, when we combine stress with overeating. This happens often, as stress causes us to look for some form of relief and eating is usually the most immediate option. Sweets and other foods that are high on sugar act similarly to drugs like cigarettes, in that they create a temporary feeling of satiety and relaxation.
In other words, the more stressed we are, the harder it is to control our urge to overeat. That's why stress is especially difficult on people trying to lose weight. But overeating isn't just bad for weight loss.
Too much sugar greatly increases the risk of diabetes and hypertension, among others.
Why do our brains like sugar?
Sugar begins by activating our taste receptors in the tongue, which then sends signals to the brain, activating our reward pathways. This causes the release of a wave of well-being hormones, like dopamine.
Although the occasional stimulation of this reward system in the brain can be pleasurable and usually harmless, exploiting this too often can cause problems.
Here's how to trick your brain to stop associating sugar with stress relief:
The short answer is simple: give it a better, healthier alternative.
Sugar and other consumable stimulants may be the most immediate options that we tend to look to, but they are not the only options.
There are other ways to cheat the brain when you feel stressed and crave something you know you shouldn't. The trick is to practice activities (rather than consuming foods) which have the same compensatory effects. Challenge yourself to a simple active competition that you know you can win. Propose that you jog for 2 miles and finish it. If you're short on time, challenge yourself to finishing a 7 minute workout.
If you're not feeling very active, even video games can help reduce stress. Anything that has a reward system built in helps us feel a sense of accomplishment, which as we've discussed above, leads to a satisfying release of dopamine in the brain.
Have a favorite hobby or always wanted to take one up? Do that the next time you're craving sugar. The more consistent we are about replacing our overeating habits with a healthier, better hobby, the more our brains will begin to associate that hobby with stress relief.
This, in time, helps us develop the habit of turning to our favorite activities and hobbies whenever we feel stressed, as opposed to relying on the not-so-healthy sugar alternative.
And if you're at work or in a place where activities are not an option, consider eating a fruit, talking to a colleague or taking a short walk.
Certain foods even have the unique property of killing our urge to eat sweets. Some of the main ones are: banana, chickpeas, peanuts, eggs and cheese.