The cortisol hormone serves many important functions in the body such as regulating blood sugar and blood pressure and providing energy for exercise and activity. Cortisol also plays a key role in the immunity and healing processes. [Greenspan F.S., Stewler G.J. (eds): Basic and Clinical Endocrinology. Appelton & Lange, Stamford, CT 1997]
When your body is stressed, either physically or emotionally, it secretes cortisol. Cortisol is part of the fight or flight response. Faced with a “life or death” situation, cortisol increases the flow of glucose (as well as protein and fat) from your tissues and into the bloodstream to increase energy and physical readiness to handle the stressful situation or threat.
The problem is we often deal with stress mentally, and never respond to stress with physical activity that would burn the extra energy provided by the cortisol surge. Whether your stress was emotional or physical, the stress response is identical, causing a spike in your appetite. This can cause a craving for comfort foods-foods high in fat and sugar. [D. Reynolds. Stress, Cortisol, and Weight Gain: Hormonal Response Can Cause Weight Loss Failure, 2007]
The body stores unused stress energy around the abdominal organs. Accumulation of this type of fat, known as visceral fat, is most damaging to health, leading to an increased development of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. [D. Reynolds. Stress, Cortisol, and Weight Gain: Hormonal Response Can Cause Weight Loss Failure, 2007]
The meaning of “emotional eating” is now quite clear. Fatty and sugary foods relieve stress, but at what cost? If you are stressed, you may not be satisfied by a meal unless it contains fats or sugars.