Why Do We Crave Junk Foods When We Are Stressed?

Ariana M. Chao, Ph.D., RN, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, said that stress can lead to weight gain because some people eat to cope with stress and make themselves feel better. This article examines the connection between stress and junk food cravings.

Why You Crave Comfort Food When You Are Stressed

Chronic stress has a near-diabolic effect on your metabolism. Chao said stress may influence your brain’s reward system in areas such as the hippocampus and the amygdala, promoting food cravings.

Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and nutritional biochemist in Salt Lake City, said the cortisol secretion in response to a stressor also tells your body to store body fat. One review discovered that belly fat adds pounds and increases your risk for heart attacks. Additionally, another study revealed a link between belly fat and ischemic stroke in women.

The Importance of Sleep and Exercise for Stress Management

In multiple experimental studies, short-term sleep deprivation increased weight gain and calorie intake. This could be because of changes in the appetite-regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin and an increased intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and high-calorie foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most adults should target getting seven hours or more of sleep each night.

According to a systematic review, exercise helps lower stress levels and could help decrease symptoms of anxiety. However, the benefits don’t end there. Chao said exercise can directly affect weight by helping burn calories and increase lean muscle mass. She also said regular exercise can improve your physiological toughness when dealing with stress.

Science-Backed Tips for Preventing Stressed-Fueled Weight Gain

These are some tips for breaking the chronic stress-weight gain feedback loop:

● Set priorities: Decide which tasks are most important to you and prioritize them

● Love your body: Improve your body image by focusing on being healthy.

● Become efficient: Streamline healthy eating and physical activity to make them easier to fit into your busy lifestyle.

● Think before you snack: Stop before eating other than at mealtimes, and consider whether you are hungry or need food for a different reason.

● Take a walk: Rather than taking out a bag of chips when stressed, walk around the house to help you calm down.


Eating lots of junk food when stressed can lead to unnecessary weight gain. However, you can easily counter this craving with adequate sleep and exercise, which ensures you stay healthy.