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Why do we reach for comfort foods when feeling stressed?


Stress is a contributing factor to comfort eating and one that affects so many people in the UK. Let’s discover what our nutrition expert Dr Kelly Johnston believes on the science behind comfort eating.

“Why do we crave ‘comfort foods’ when we’re feeling down or stressed?”

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that gives us a sense of wellbeing, making us feel good, happier and calmer. Eating sweet or starchy carbohydrate foods such as bread, pasta and chocolate enables the brain to make serotonin.

Emotional eater

So, when we are feeling challenged or emotionally distressed and serotonin levels are low, our brains motivate us to boost them by creating cravings for carbohydrates and, to some extent, fatty and rich foods – collectively what we tend to class as “comfort foods”. Protein-rich foods, on the other hand, don’t produce this effect.

Of course, eating comfort foods doesn’t remove the cause of the problem – the triggering event – but the emotions associated with it are temporarily diminished by the serotonin, so we feel calmer and believe we can cope better.

So what’s the message?

‘Comfort foods’ are a short-term way to manage your uncomfortable feelings but they don’t take away whatever it was that was giving you the uncomfortable feelings and can lead to weight gain – and that can lead to further uncomfortable feelings, and so the vicious circle continues.

How LighterLife can help!

We can give you the tools needed to break this vicious circle. Our unique mindfulness approach goes beyond what you put in your mouth and explores how your thinking affects your eating behaviour, giving you the tools for losing weight and keeping it off. It’s time to be different.