Stress and Food Addiction: The Link

Categories: Food Addiction

stress and food addictionAre bags of chips, tubs of ice cream, slices of cakes (and more) your constant companions every time you are in distress?  Did you notice that you eat more when you are under intense and unrelenting stress?  Do you always turn to food for comfort and relief?  Yes?  Don’t fret dear readers.  The reason is that there is a strong chain that links stress and food addiction.

Others might attribute food addiction to lack of discipline while some blame it all on lack of control and willpower.  But according to several research and studies, stress is also a known factor that makes us hooked so much to food.


The Hormone Ghrelin

You are a working mom.  Dave, one of your kids, has a soccer match after class.  He’ll surely sulk if you will not be able to see his game.  You still have a deadline to beat at work and a meeting with the angry bosses by the time his match starts.  Plus, your in-laws are coming and you don’t have the time to prepare meals to impress them.  And, get this, ALL OF THIS HAPPENS TODAY.  Yikes!!! Thinking all about these problems is stressing you out and then your tummy growls, making you want to reach for the nearest chocolate bar (or bars) you can find in the office.

The reason for this need to eat is the hormone called ghrelin that induces hunger.  As stated by research from the University of Texas Medical Center, ghrelin levels rise when we are in stress.  As the levels spike, the dopamine neurons, which is the section of the brain that is linked to pleasure and rewards, are messed.  As a result of this activity in your brain, you will look for and eat something that will make you feel good.  And what is the most accessible?  Junk or fast food, of course.


Body’s Innate Opiates

Yes, we have those innate opiates situated in our brain.  When we are stressed out, our brain triggers the endocannabinoid system.  In this system, chemicals similar to the ingredient in cannabis are released by the brain.  Apart from that, neuropeptide Y, a brain chemical known to calm us after experiencing taxing and traumatic events, are also dispersed.  Unfortunately, this same chemical fires up our sugar and fat cravings which is usually very difficult to control.


Stress and Food Addiction Solution

The best (and probably the most practical) thing that you can do about this addiction is to learn how to relieve stress without using food as your crutch.  Learn to relax but make sure that you don’t unwind and de-stress some place where you can easily get your hands on food.  Keep temptation away by keeping yourself busy.

Exercising is also a good method to steer clear from those strong cravings when exposed to severe stress.  There are researches or studies indicating that constant exercising makes your brain less vulnerable to stress by keeping it in a calm state.  Other activities such as yoga, painting, dancing, or anything that will act as stress busters will do wonders for your brain.  Shopping (or just window shopping) helps too.

Also, stop blaming yourself if you can’t control your cravings.  Doing so will only stress you out even more.  Stress is already a big contributing factor to your current addiction and we would not want more stress in our life, don’t we?



As evidenced in several studies, stress and food addiction are strongly tied to each other.  When in distress, our brain secretes hormones to keep our body stable and back to its normal working condition.  However, there is a drawback to our body’s way of coping with stress – and it is food addiction.  What we can do for ourselves (or for our loved ones) is to seek help or even medical attention.  We can turn to support groups, supplements, or simply keeping ourselves busy.  Or we can simply take a breather.  Take a step back from everything that’s bothering us.  Relax and fight off stress.  I am sure that you can find something that relaxes you.  Good luck!


Doriet von Fircks

About the author

Doriet von Fircks is a health practitioner and a nutrition expert.
She specializes in food related problems, such as food addiction.
After reading many articles about food addiction, especially lots of scientific journals, she realized that there was hardly any discussion about food addiction from a scientific perspective.
She updates the site frequently, ensuring that the latest scientific findings are always featured on If you have questions about this site or suggestions for improvement, please feel free to contact her.