The Craving-Stress Connection: Unlocking the Secrets to Emotional Wellness

By Sandy Jolles, MS

Have you noticed when you feel stress you crave sweets or a bag of chips?  That’s not a lack of self-control – it’s the connection between excessive worrying and stress eating that often goes unnoticed.

This connection has a significant impact on our daily decisions and emotional well-being.

Read on to learn how this connection hides in plain sight while holding such a firm grip on our lives.

The truth is that we don’t exist in a vacuum––our emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and reactions are all intertwined. Just as a stressful day can lead to a headache, taxing emotions can lead to various cravings for food.

Our job is to be aware of the problem and what potential triggers might drive us toward such behaviors.  So, without further ado, let’s talk about it.

Understanding Cravings

We've all reached for a candy bar in the middle of a taxing afternoon or rummaged through the fridge for something savory when the clock strikes midnight.  And, hey, don't beat yourself up about it.  These cravings you experience are normal.

But what are cravings, and why do they ambush us at the most inconvenient moments?  Well, let's unpack that together.

Cravings are those powerful, almost magnetic urges that pull us toward specific foods and drinks.  But they're not just your regular hunger pangs that remind you it's lunchtime.  No, cravings are a whole different ballgame triggered even when your stomach isn't empty.

As for why they happen, it's unfortunately not as clear-cut as we'd like.  Multiple factors could be at play here.

The primary suspect?  It could be your brain's neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, playing tricks on you.  You know that wave of happiness you feel when you bite into your favorite cookie?  That's dopamine doing its job, making you feel good.  And after your brain has tasted this pleasure, it tends to want more, pushing you toward stress eating.

Exploring the Link Between Stress and Cravings

When we're stressed, our body responds like it's in a crisis. It enters its “fight-or-flight” mode, and hormones like adrenaline and cortisol begin to surge.  Cortisol is tricky because it can increase our cravings, especially for sugary foods.

Emotional eating is another phenomenon closely tied to stress.  We’re drawn toward those high-calorie, deliciously indulgent foods when we're feeling overwhelmed.  Why?  Well, these treats offer a temporary escape.  It’s a brief moment of joy amidst the chaos.

Isn't it interesting how stress seems to have a direct hotline to our cravings, especially for indulgent comfort foods?  These treats promise a mini-vacation from our worries, and temporary joy in the middle of chaos.  We're all figuring out this dance between emotions and food.  Together, we'll learn healthier ways to navigate it.

Over time, we start associating these foods with positive feelings, like finding solace in a trusted friend.

And let's not forget about leptin and ghrelin, our hunger and fullness hormones, which might also have a part to play in stress eating.  When you're dieting to shed weight, for instance, your leptin level tends to dip, and cravings seem to spike.

Although it’s important to remember that just because two things happen at the same time it doesn't mean one causes the other, in this case the two might be linked.

Strategies for Managing Stress and Cravings

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation
    When you feel overwhelmed with stress, and those intense cravings seem to be getting the better of you, remember there are tools that can help.  And no, it doesn't involve a radical diet or extreme measures.  We're talking about the time-tested practices of mindfulness and meditation.

    These are not just buzzwords from the latest wellness trend but proven techniques that can help us tune in to our inner selves.

    Mindfulness, for instance, can gently guide us to recognize our cravings for what they are and why they show up. It helps us respond to them rather than react to them.

    Similarly, meditation invites a sense of tranquility, a pause in the chaos, that can arm us with greater self-control during a stressful time.

    Getting started is easier than you might think––guided meditation can be a wonderful place to start.  Set aside a few quiet moments during your day or when the tension begins to build up.
  1. Physical Activity
    Another potent weapon in our arsenal against the tug-of-war between stress and cravings is physical activity.  Don't let the term scare you – it's not about running a marathon or lifting heavy weights – it's just about getting moving.

    Physical activity, in whatever form you enjoy, can be incredibly therapeutic and beneficial when resisting stress eating.  From taking a leisurely neighborhood walk to grooving to your favorite songs, doing yoga, or even engaging in a lively gym session – it all counts.

    What's magical about moving your body is that it can instantly lift your spirits.  You've probably heard of the term runner's high, right?  Well, it's not exclusive to running.  That's the power of endorphins, our body's natural mood boosters released during any physical activity.
  1. Healthy Eating
    We know that stress can drive us toward unhealthy habits, but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to fail.  Being mindful of your eating habits and focusing on whole foods can teach your body to ignore cravings while helping you manage stress.

    Contrary to popular belief, eating well doesn’t mean following a restrictive diet. Instead, it means balancing your favorite foods with those that are good for your body.

    To achieve that balance, eat plenty of whole foods (fruits, veggies, meats, seafood, grains, dairy, etc.) but also treat yourself occasionally and within reason
  1. Taking the Right Nutritional Supplement
    Nutritional supplements are not an all-in-one solution for our problems, but they can support our efforts and help us achieve specific outcomes more quickly.

    We highly recommend HealthyBest Calm––a nutritional supplement that can help you better manage stress.* Here are several of its active ingredients: 
  • Magnolia officinalis – this botanical extract, known for its relaxing properties, can help to manage anxious feelings*
  • Phellodendron amurense – another botanical extract, it has adaptogenic properties that contribute to overall stress resilience*
  • Vitamin B2 – this nutrient plays a critical role in energy production and maintaining a balance of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood*
  • Vitamin B6 – a nutrient crucial for optimal brain function, it promotes the production of neurotransmitters*
  • Vitamin B12 – an integral vitamin for maintaining the health of nerve cells and supporting cognitive function*
  • 5-MTHF (Folate) – the most bioactive form of folate, it assists in mood regulation by supporting the production of serotonin, which is vital for mood stability*


Stress can often lead us to unhealthy foods that promise temporary relief, but end up doing more harm than good.  Fortunately, we are all capable of changing how we think and act, even under pressure.

Remember that you’re on a journey, not participating in a race.  So, breathe in and celebrate every small win.  Follow the above tactics to empower yourself and face stress eating with poise and grace.