A healthy recovery depends on healthy habits. One of the more difficult challenges a person in recovery faces is dealing with daily stressors. Our world has become a fast-paced, instantaneous culture of NOW. One of the ways people cope with the stress that comes along with the modern lifestyle is by either overeating or under-consuming food.


Stress is a Natural Instinct

Stress is caused by an increase in hormones in the body, namely cortisol and epinephrine, which contribute to higher levels of anxiety and tension. Some say it is triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response which causes our bodies to think we are in danger and need to determine whether we fight the stressor or run away. This primeval response served us well as a hunter-gatherer society when we lived mainly off the land, hunted for our food, lived in danger of large animals chasing us, and fought off other groups, tribes, and bands of people wanting the same food or land.  Today this instinct, when left unchecked, can result in unnecessary stress, fear, and anxiety.


Sugar is Food for Stress

Proper nutrition is key to the recovery process and must be taken seriously. Sugar is found in increasing amounts in almost all of our highly processed foods on the shelf today. An over-abundance of sugar over the long term can cause diabetes, high blood pressure, and other unpleasant health concerns. Foods high in fat and sugar may absorb quickly into the system and release ‘feel good’ hormones like dopamine (similar in effect to heroin) but also cause a ‘sugar crash’ or a drop in the blood sugar level, which creates more anxiety and stress for the body. Over time this can wreak havoc on our nervous and digestive systems.


How to Deal with Stress Eating

Stress eating generally occurs when there are stressors in the environment which feel so overwhelming that food serves as a temporary quick-fix salve. It can occur when a person feels isolated, lonely, anxious, nervous, or for any number of reasons. Eating triggers a temporary dopamine fix to combat the stress hormones. The most important thing to note is how to avoid an unhealthy habit of overeating or binge eating.


Take note of the environment which often causes the stress. Try to avoid getting to a point where it feels overwhelming. Another idea is to keep junk or trigger foods out of the home which result in overeating. Some foods are easier to overindulge in than others (chips, frozen meals or French fries, microwaveable meals, candies, sweets). The rule of thumb is if you have to cook or make it yourself, you’re less likely to overeat.


Find alternatives to food for dealing with the inevitable stress of your day. Practicing mindfulness, yoga, or sitting meditation when the feelings of stress overwhelm your body can help bring the stress levels down and focus your breathing. These are key components to dealing with stress in a healthy manner and will assist you in making a better recovery.


Find a Healthy Balance for a Modern Life

Know when enough is enough. Make note of what you eat in a journal and the times of day or moments when you overindulge. Try to avoid putting yourself in situations consistently where stress is overwhelming or find better ways of coping with it through counseling, therapy, recovery groups, etc. Stress is an inevitable part of our lives, but it doesn’t need to overwhelm us. There are ways to alleviate overeating when stressed. The first step is to acknowledge the problem then make a plan to resolve it before it becomes a replacement for the primary addiction.

For more information on how you can deal with stress without resorting to unhealthy eating habits, contact our addiction counselors at Treatment Now.

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