Stress Eating and other curses...

Stress is a part of everyday life, but there are times when it gets the better of you. When I was younger (much!), and the stress in my life was tests and presentations, a date (or not having one), a bad haircut or a breakout, my body reacted by not eating. I had little or no appetite and the less I ate, the less I wanted to eat. Before eating disorders were "extreme dieting", I didn't eat because that was one of the few things had control over in my life.

Food is more for humans than just survival and sustenance. It is comfort, security, nostalgia, and love. We use it to fill other holes in our lives, to stop pain, to relive better times. It is a way to celebrate, to share good times, create friendships and cement family. It can even help win over enemies. Breaking bread together has been a way to build alliances since Biblical times, and sharing a meal is a universal way of showing mutual respect.

We live in a world now that glorifies thin-ness over healthiness, where bony protuberances are preferred over gentle curves. We are a nation of extremes- home to both obese children with growing diabetes rates and young women starving themselves to meet an ideal they can never attain. There must be a middle ground... a place where children can enjoy a variety of foods, an occasional snack or dessert or guilty pleasure, where we can all enjoy bacon, or a juicy cheeseburger, or a potato chip without overindulging. This is one of the reasons I started Play With Food, to encourage families and young people to get over their fear of food and cooking, to help people to use food as a part of a way to meet their needs for fun, community and family as well as nutrition.

Which brings me back to where I started- stress and eating. Contrary to my teen years I find the older I get, the more my response to stress (6 kids, 2 jobs, 3 mortgages, 2 dogs, 1 blog...) involves junk food. When I am down or overwhelmed I crave a can of Pringles or a bag of Cheese Doodles or a box of Fiddle Faddle no matter how much peanut butter and celery and carrot sticks are in my fridge. I don't know if it is the trans fats, the sugar, (the crack!) that draws me, but I honestly don't know of anyone who eats healthy food when they are stressed! Whether it is cookies, french fries or Ho-Hos, it is junk food that stressed people crave. How does stress affect your eating habits and what calls to you when you've had a bad day (week)? I've fessed up.... now it's your turn!


I'm right there with you. There is nothing like a bag of crunchy, salted corn nuts or Cheese Doodles (only the puffed ones for me) to ease the pain of a stressful day. I suppose there might be some chemical mechanism going on, but in all likelihood I think its just our go-to comfort foods.
There are two very distinct forms of comfort food for me. When I'm feeling sad or lonely I want the comforting carbohydrates that remind me of my family - pastas, mashed potatoes, all that. But when I'm stressed out, particularly when I'm not feeling well, it's SALT all the way - oooooh, do I want some cheese doodles right about now.
s'kat said…
Like claire, my comfort foods are all carby goodness. Stress foods tend towards the sweet. In particular, I'm completely addicted to the Harbor Ices at Harbor Espresso! They're what a frappuccino dreams of being one day.
J said…
I think I have to agree with Claire, you've got the "in need of a big culinary hug comfort food" (generally mash potatoes for me but then a good chip buttie doesn't go amiss - and you get a double carb hit with the latter, fat hot salty chips and couple of slices of well buttered white bread - heaven!) and then there's the "in desperate need of a sugar hit" comfort food. Then it will be Minstrels if I need something portable or Haagen Daz Belgian Chocolate when I can savour each mouthful!
Elle said…
No doubt about it, when stressed, I eat junk food. Usually it is either tortilla chips (for the extreme saltiness) or dark chocolate (for the sugar and whatever else chocolate does for you.)Sometimes popcorn with extra salt will sub for the chips, and milk chocolate or cookies for the sweets. i long ago gave up trying to resist entirely, but now I try to limit the portion. Smaller portions works sometimes, sometimes not. Heehee.
I would have to say spaghetti with a basic tomato meat sauce. I eat it hot , cold, day old whatever.
Deborah Dowd said…
Ronnie- Great recipe for Cheese doodles-open bag and enjoy!

Claire- you are so right about mashed potatoes when you are not feeling great... my mom used to make them with velveeta sauce!

Shelley- I love Harbor Ices! I have developed my own version to avoid going broke!

J- I totally forgot about ice cream!
Freya and Paul said…
Great article! I will sit and eat tea and biscuits (or, as you might know it, English tea with cookies dipped in them!)! I tend to binge on sweet things a lot!
Susan said…
OK, please don't hate me, when I say this, but I have no junk food in my house. Seriously. I feel like if it's there, then I'll eat it. So I just don't but it. My guilty pleasures, therefore, are usually pasta or pizza. I guess it's the high carb content; plus stringy, gooey mozzarella can calm even the most frazzled nerves. Great post!
Deborah Dowd said…
Elle-I definitely can empathize- I have been trying to at least substitute popcorn for the chips or doodles, but the junk still calls to me!
CFG-Maybe if I was addicted to something that needed cooking, I could resist!
Freya and Paul- I guess misery loves company- even Brits have their own food vices in times of stress..
Susan-I don't hate you, I envy you. Even when I don't have it in the house, if my day is bad enough I am willing to go out (I also have grown kids who love torun that kind of errand as long as I share!)
Gattina said…
the junk calls to me too when I have stress. No doubt it is delicious. And probably I can feel I'm a kid again (remember how happy and stree-free when we were kids, and kept snacking on junk, 'guilty pleasure' weren't in our vocabulary).
Kristen said…
How did I miss this... you have 6 kids? How in the world do you do it all girl? I can barely handle 3! My hat goes off to you.

And yes... I eat when I'm stressed, I eat when I am not stressed... I just like to eat. I have 15 pounds to lose and the second I put my mind to it, I get hungry and fall off the wagon just like that.

Salt and chocolate are my craves when I'm stressed. Little dove chocolate pieces and anything salty. Oh - and a margarita or two always helps as well!
meowsies said…
mashed potatoes, real ones, not boxed with loads of butter. but even if there is no butter (there is ALWAYS butter in my house!) the potatoes are the thing. sometimes bacon & eggs with toast for dinner.