Many people think that they respond well to stressful situations mentally, but they may be experiencing physical signs of stress that they’re overlooking. Some people might suffer from indigestion or constipation, muscle tension, headaches or sore eyes which can all be physical symptoms of stress.
Stress also impacts our appetite, the foods we are motivated to eat and how we store fat.
This is because of the hormones that we release in response to stress. Cortisol is the main hormone that is associated with long term stress.
Cortisol is our “fight or flight” hormone which means that when it is being released, our body is getting us ready to fight something or to run away. This was a great survival mechanism when the only things we needed to be stressed about were enemies or predators but these days, we’re mostly stressed about spreadsheets and e-mails which actually require us to sit still and be rational.
Because cortisol is getting you ready to fight or run, one of the things that happens in the presence of stress is that your appetite increases. This is to make sure that you are taking enough energy on board to fight off your enemies (or email your boss back).
You may also notice that when you’re stressed, it isn’t an apple or a banana that you really want. This is because we are particularly drawn to highly palatable foods with maximum available energy. Fat and carbohydrates in combination are particularly irresistible to the stressed human. In the presence of stress, the reward centre of our brain is lit up even more by highly palatable foods and they genuinely work as “comfort foods” by dampening down our stress hormones via the release of the happy hormone, dopamine.
This helps to explain why biscuits, cakes and doughnuts never last long in the office.