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Stress Can Create Eating Challenges
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Stress Can Create Eating Challenges

By Michael Parish, PsyD

Stress is an inherent part of our daily lives. It is a response we all experience in reaction to the demands of daily living. Stress encompasses a range of psychological and biological triggers that motivate us to action, to respond and to solve situations that we continually encounter.


While we commonly consider stress to have only negative implications, not all stress is harmful. As a positive influence, it encourages us to enrich our lives, to find exciting new perspectives and to meet our goals.


As a negative influence, it can result in feelings of distrust, rejection, nervousness, panic, anger, and depression, which can in turn, lead to health problems such as general irritability, elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased accident proneness, “floating” anxiety (anxious feelings for no specific reason), insomnia, headaches, indigestion, neck and lower back pain, and changes in appetite or sleep patterns.


Of particular interest for us, is the role that stress can play in our eating patterns. Some of you may have experienced symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome (NES), a condition in which a significant percentage of daily food in-take occurs after 8 p.m. Some sources indicate that one-fourth of obese persons suffer from this disorder. In contrast to Binge Eating Disorder (also known as Eating Disorder NOS), characterized by overeating large amounts of food to the point of discomfort over a time-limited period, Night Eating Syndrome is characterized by eating or “grazing” continuously throughout the evening and night. The common pattern includes a lack of or decreased daytime appetite, insomnia, increased evening eating and waking during the night to snack, feeling tense, anxious, worried and guilty while eating, and preferences for sugary and starchy foods. Findings in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism suggest that a disordered stress response may be the cause of NES. The literature also supports the role of stress in Binge Eating Disorder.


Please contact your bariatric program for guidance on how to identify and manage the stress in your life more effectively so that these “out-of-control” responses or old habits do not get in the way of your ability to meet your goals.