Why you stress-eat and how to stop it

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When you stress out, it's harder for your body to regulate your appetite

Stress reduction techniques and mindfulness can help

Sometimes it happens after you get an angry email from your boss. Or, maybe because you recently connected with a new love interest…and now he or she’s gone MIA. Whatever the dilemma, cue your hand in the bag of Cheetos or a visit to the kitchen for, well…whatever’s there.

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You know what it is: stress eating. “It’s perfectly human to want to avoid pain and seek relief,” says Minh-Hai Alex, a registered dietitian and founder of Mindful Nutrition in Seattle. “Stress eating usually happens when we want to disconnect from the moment. It’s like changing the channel in our brain to try to change how we feel,” she explains. Here’s why food is such a salve for stress — and how to stop the cycle.

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This is why you turn to food when you’re stressed

It’s no surprise if you suddenly feel famished when deadlines or crises strike. “Stress activates your adrenal glands to release cortisol, increasing your appetite,” says Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC, psychologist and the emotional eating expert behind the site Too Much On Her Plate. Stress also impedes hunger hormones, like ghrelin, that regulate your appetite, research shows. If the anxiety is cutting into your sleep, a