This article exists as part of the online archive for HuffPost Australia, which closed in 2021.

How To Turn Your Stressed Out Candy Brain Into A Nourished Brain

sweet tooth
sweet tooth

Chances are you have a candy brain if you reach for junk food at times of stress.

Waiting on an important email response? *Dives into biscuit jar.*

Or perhaps chocolate therapy is more your thing. Whichever eating habit you employ when dealing with life stresses, rewarding yourself (or confiding in) food is largely tied up in our emotions.

“Stress eating is one of the most common issues I help my clients manage,” dietitian Rebecca Gawthorne told The Huffington Post Australia.

When we feel stressed, our blood glucose (sugar) levels are unstable and because the brain runs purely off glucose (sugar) it makes sense we reach for foods high in energy (sugar) during these times.

To add fuel to the fire, when under pressure, the body releases cortisol which signals the brain to reach for rewards.

“Over time, people condition themselves to consume a food or drink that is high-sugar when they are stressed to bring their blood sugars back up and give their brain energy,” said Gawthorne.

Foods rich in carbohydrates, especially those high in refined or added sugar and saturated or trans fats are the main culprits.

“Unfortunately, this junk food will often spike and quickly drop their blood sugar levels, causing a vicious cycle of unstable blood sugars.”

So while licking the icing off your fingers from a double chocolate brownie might seem like it’s helping with the healing process, Gawthorne said eating a healthy source of food before reaching for the sweet stuff is a fail-safe plan to avoid emotional eating.

“You can still have something that contains natural sugar like a piece of fruit, or opt for something like wholegrain crackers and hummus, a handful of nuts or a tub of natural yoghurt,” she said.

These foods have a low glycaemic index and are also high in fibre providing long lasting energy, instead of a quick hit.

“Try swapping ice-cream for fresh fruit with natural yoghurt, cake for a healthy homemade wholemeal fruit muffin and chocolate for a cacao and nut bliss ball,” said Gawthorne.

And if you’re still thinking about the Iced Vovos in the pantry after your healthy snack, Gawthorne said you should be looking at why you feel stressed and how you can manage it, without food.

“Exercise is perfect for this as it reduces the stress hormone cortisol and it also releases the feel good hormones, endorphins. Don't be afraid to seek help from a professional too,” she said.

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