When we are stressed our levels of stress hormone cortisol increases, which boosts your appetite.

On top of that our huger hormone, ghrelin, also increases, so you are facing a double whammy of cravings.

No wonder it's so hard to resist the urge to eat comfort food just to make yourself feel better.

But reaching for that chocolate bar or bag of crisps sets of a vicious cycle that leaves you feeling more stressed out, and craving more junk.

Nutritionist Helen Bond told The Sun Online: "In today’s lifestyle we are facing more stress than ever before and in regards to eating patterns it can cause emotional eating.

"When you are stressed it often raises levels of a hormone called cortisol, which can make you hungrier and can make you put on weight, especially if you go for the sugary, fatty, high GI foods like chocolate, biscuits and cake.

"It will temporarily make you feel better but after the initial high that you get from the rise in blood glucose levels, they tend to drop off and that leaves you feeling quite flat afterwards.

"So that won’t do your stress levels any benefit.

"There’s another hormone coming in called ghrelin, the hunger hormone, that is often raised as well.

"So stress is quite negative in regards to your eating habits and your weight.

"When you have a stressful life you need to learn how to deal with stress and that can be through using distraction techniques like exercise.

"Or in regards to food it’s a good idea to be well prepared so you’ve got things you can munch on that are healthier."

What can trigger stress eating?

Any situation which causes you to feel worried and anxious out can trigger stress eating.

Everyone is different so everyone handles situations differently, so it is important to know what triggers your stress.

Work:

For many people work can be an incredibly stressful situation.

But it is important to make sure that when you come home you can destress without eating junk.


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"Work can be quite a stressful situation so you need to be able to come home and get out of the habit of reaching for what you normally would to destress," Helen said.

"That might have been a glass of wine or a take away because you felt too stressed to cook.

"Try and be organised by cooking at the weekend so you’ve got a healthy meal to hand when you get home or you’ve got healthy snacks in the fridge.

"If you are stressed you tend not to focus on what you’ve got to do so if you’ve got those things in place that can help combat it."

Family:

Most of us at some point have been in a family situation that causes us to worry more than we should.

Helen said distraction techniques are a very important part of dealing with stress at home.

"Exercise is quite an important thing, so whether you like jogging or whether you want to take up salsa dancing or something that makes you feel happier within yourself are very good," she said.

"Exercise can help counteract the effects of the cortisol released when stressed by releasing endorphins.

"It’s a good way to combat stress."

Finance:

Who hasn't had money worries at some point in their life?

You may have outgoing expenses that you can't control, but choosing to spend less money on take away can really save you some cash.

"Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive," Helen explained.

"You can shop around, shop locally, shop in season, cook in advance, cook in bulk, which really cuts down on pennies and may help ease your financial stress from food budgeting.

"But if you get into the repeated cycle of getting stressed over financial worries but keep indulging in take away and high sugary, high fat snack foods to make you feel better it is an expensive way to go.

"It’s much better to eat healthier, cook from scratch, know what your ingredients are – you will feel better in yourself and all of the nutrients they provide will help you function better."

HELEN BOND'S TOP TIPS FOR BEATING STRESS EATING

  • Find something you enjoy that helps release happy hormones
  • Exercise more, we should all be finding 30 minutes of exercise five times a week
  • Plan meals for the week ahead and don’t fill your cupboard with chocolate, crisps and other junk food
  • Learn to cook or learn new, healthy recipes

Boredom:

Another form of emotional eating is eating because you are bored – often called mindless eating.

If you have been stressed out with other things in your life and you are used to using food as a crutch then you can easily munch down a family sized bag of crisps without even realising.


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"Mindless eating is a real danger zone, it is often vegged out in front of the TV and you just feel kind of fed up, so food becomes your crutch for stressful situations," Helen said.

"This is again about breaking that association, chocolate doesn’t have to feel good.

"You should try to get other healthy snacks on board like popcorn, it’s a great substitute for crisps and it is a whole grain full of B vitamins which helps in releasing energy slowly.

"If it’s wine you normally have try having a smaller glass or having a white wine spritzer to dilute it, it’s about making healthier choices.

"If you put weight on with stress it will make the situation worse because you will just feel bad about yourself."

Fatigue:

When you are stressed you get tired and when you are tired you reach for sugary food to get an energy rush – it's a never ending circle.

"If your cortisol levels or your ghrelin levels are raging then you tend to go for those high GI, sugary foods that release energy quickly," Helen said.

"But actually they can cause a drop in energy levels really quickly and that’s when you experience tiredness.

"So you should really look at your overall diet and making sure it is full of slow release carbohydrates and whole grains.

"They are also good for magnesium which is good for psychological welfare and relaxation.

"The roller coaster of blood sugar levels can leave you feeling quite depressed, so it is always good to go for food that provides sustainable energy – the highs and lows are quite stressing on the body."

The best foods for combating stress

So we've talked a lot about the foods to avoid when you are stressed because they make you feel worse.

But what about the foods that will help ease your stress levels?

You probably guessed it, they are all healthy.

Leafy, green vegetables:

 

"Green, leafy vegetables are full of B vitamins and folate," Helen said.

"People who have a diet rich in B vitamins tend to have better mental wellbeing, low levels are often linked to depressive symptoms and things like that."

Whole grains:

"Whole grains from things like wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholegrain pasta, oats, quinoa, pearly barley, they’re all slow release carbohydrates," Helen added.

"They’re also full of B vitamins and magnesium, which is important for feeling calm."

Nuts:

"Nuts, particularly walnuts, are brilliant because they are rich in plant based omega 3s which are important for cognitive function," Helen said.

"Oily fish is also full of omega 3s, that is good for brain function as well."

Avocado:

"They are good for healthy fats which is good for our brain health but they are also good sources of potassium which is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure," Helen said.

Vitamin C

"Fruits and vegetables go without saying but opt for things full of vitamin C, so plenty of citrus fruits, and that can help reduce levels of cortisol, your stress hormone," Helen said.

Stay hydrated:

"It’s important to keep hydrated as well," Helen added.

"Our brains are about 75 per cent water so if you are not feeling well hydrated then that can make you feel tired and stressed."

 

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