Stress-Induced Fat Cravings

fatty snacks

When pressures mount we often turn to food,  and it’s not usually broccoli.  A 2007 USA Today study found the balm for anxiety tends to be chocolate, ice cream or chips.

University of California at San Francisco surveyed more than 600 overweight or obese women to see how stress influenced their food choices.  Women with the most chronic stress in their lives (think past due mortgage, marriage problems, job dissatisfaction or no job) were more likely to be out of control with fatty food.

Women, and in particular women on diets, appear to crave fat and sugar the most.  You knew that, right?  Naturally produced brain chemicals called dynorphins spike in the brain when we are stressed, and probably when we diet.  Unlike feel-good endorphins, dynorphins are associated with pain and depression and an increased appetite, especially for fats.

Unfortunately, the fats in fast foods and packaged snacks are industrial oils and trans fats, both of which drive up inflammation, weight gain, disease risk and even more anxiety.  Vegetable oils, especially the hydrogenated variety, become part of our nerve cells and may lead to neurological trouble in time, including MS and tremors.  Furthermore, high temperatures used to crisp up fatty favorites cause formation of toxic free-radicals, chemicals in oils that speed disease, pain and aging.

A low-fat diet isn’t the answer either. Studies in animals and in humans show low fat diets increase tension, hostility and anger.   Fat helps us regain a feeling of calm by decreasing stress hormones.  Fat and sugar can make us feel good.  But you knew that. Now, what to do?

Strangely, fat itself is part of the solution. We crave greasy foods when stressed, but also when our diet lacks healthy fats. We need good fats for energy, bone health, to make cell membranes, to protect healthy nerve cells, for hormones and to assimilate vitamins and minerals.  Our brain is 60% fat.  We need fats for cognition, memory and good moods.   It’s no wonder we crave fat when we’re anxious.

Butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, avocado, grass-fed meats, unrefined lard, duck fat and egg yolks are healthy fat sources.  Increasing these while cutting canola oil, safflower and sunflower oils, soy oil and other processed oils, especially partially hydrogenated oils, will benefit you on many levels.  Traditional fats reduce inflammation, disease, depression and anxiety along with urges for bad fats.  They actually help you to burn fat while reducing risk of heart disease and cancer. Good fats feed the brain, keep us calm and lift our mood.   Industrial oils do the opposite.

For health and well-being, replace chips and fries with seeds and nuts.  Try guacamole on a warm corn tortilla instead of tortilla chips.  Reach for a handful of almonds instead of crispy chicken wings.  Order the shrimp salad instead of fried calamari.  Baked chicken instead of deep-fried.

Consider wild salmon and sliced potatoes grilled in olive oil instead of fried fish and chips.  The next time you’ve itching for a burger, brown your own juicy grass-fed beef patty in butter.
On top of those changes, supplement your diet with a high quality cod liver oil to give your brain and nerve cells a dose of therapeutic fat. You will notice the difference.

Fat is often packaged with sugar: ice cream, donuts, muffins and cookies.  Although it always seems to be the fat that is blamed for obesity and health problems, sugar can be worse. Refined sugars are highly inflammatory.  They contribute to anxiety, obesity, pain, hormone disruption, heart disease and cancer.  Some even report panic attacks linked with sugar.  Eating sugar only makes us want more sweets. Here again, good fats help as they boost mood and reducing cravings.  Include more savory snacks: cheese and crackers, nuts, smoked salmon, deli meats, olives are a few ideas.

Coping with anxiety through exercise, yoga and other inner awareness practices, will also curb fat cravings.  Calming body and mind reduces dynorphin-driven fat cravings.

You may crave greasy (and sugary) foods when under pressure, but by increasing good fats in your diet, reaching for savory instead of sweet, and taking steps to relax, you will enjoy a leaner, calmer, healthier body.


Stress-Induced Fat Cravings — 9 Comments

  1. My goals:to feel better, have my bowels work better (have had problems since birth), less pain, get rid of foggy brain, less pain and fatigue( I was diagnosed with fibro when i was 36) fewer headaches and the list goes on. I’m 58 and have been looking for answers and trying different things since my 20’s. I’ve been using Aglaee Jacobs’ book “Digestive Health with Real Food” and her protocol for the past two weeks and trying to hang in until next Wednesday to start adding foods back. That said I’m having a hard time eating so much meat and I think pork and beef are causing problems. And I want to eat something other than protein and four vegetables. :0) Thanks for listening, Linda.

  2. I’m just 14 days into a very restricted paleo type elimination diet. Grass fed proteins, some vegies and lots of good fats. I’ve lost some weight, have more energy, less pain. I know I do better with no or very low grain consumption. Will start testing foods next week. I’m one of those who hasn’t found gluten/dairy free to be a miracle so am hoping to ferret out what other things I may be sensitive to. I’d also like to try adding some cream and yogurt back in to see what happens.

    • An elimination diet like this can be very helpful. Sometimes if gluten and dairy are culprits, but only one is removed at a time, you won’t know. Other common suspects are eggs, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, nuts and soy. What is your goal with the diet? I have had clients react to chicken, beef and even some vegetables.

  3. Linda what are your thoughts on fermented cod liver oil? I would also be interested to know how you feel about the Paleo approach to diet. Thank you so much.

    • Fermented cod liver oil is probably the best kind, just not something everyone can swallow. I see results from other types. As for the Paleo diet, the best part about it is that it eliminates all processed food and grains, which will help the majority of people lose weight and slash cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Not everyone benefits from the Paleo diet however; some people’s digestive systems and constitutions have evolved since our cave days. I also work with pets and surprisingly some dogs need more carbs than their canine ancestry (or wild canines), illustrating that it has been long enough since we clubbed our prey for our systems to change. Each of us has our own individual needs. There is really no one-size-fits-all diet plan. And, there are significant choices within the Paleo plan.

      Is the Paleo diet working for you?

  4. What resources would you recommend for mind body work? … How to practice self-care, time management to help maximize my time? Thank you for all if your invaluable advice… Always….

    • Andria, I do a lot of mind-emotion-spirit work (and of course body) with clients. Everyone is so different in what they need in this area. I also refer to appropriate help when needed. I have many tools in my toolbox, nutrition is just one. The first piece in managing time is to know what you want to be doing, right? People seem to stay busy doing what they don’t like doing often.

    • CLA seems to be most effective when from grass fed dairy products. Pills aren’t as effective. Studies show it reduces heart disease and cancer risk plus helps with weight loss. Butter and cheese, especially from grass-fed sources, end up being pretty good foods for weight loss.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.