Women stress-eat 10 times more often than men.
Let’s discover the secrets of female stress eating. Stress eating is typically referred to as overeating due to stress but not actually being hungry. Generally, women stress-eat 10 times more often than men. Why and what to do with it?
Stress is an inevitable part of life, and how we respond to it can vary greatly based on our individual experiences and, interestingly, our gender. While men and women share common stressors, the way they process and express stress can be notably different. In this article, we will delve into the distinctions between men’s and women’s reactions to stress and shed light on why stress-eating tends to be more prevalent among women.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating is typically referred to as overeating due to stress but not actually being hungry.
From a physiological standpoint, stress causes your adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. When this happens, you may notice an increase in appetite and a desire to eat sugary, salty, or fatty foods.
Peculiarities of women’s reaction to stress
The response to stress is different in men and women: in men, the brain areas responsible for planning and acting are activated (the “fight or flight” reaction); in women, the brain areas responsible for visualization, cognitive and emotional processing of experience are activated. This is why women tend to “get stuck” on a traumatic event, experiencing it over and over again in the brain. It is accompanied by persistently high levels of stress hormones. Moreover, women’s genetically inherent desire to protect children from danger increases the stress load: they constantly need to be in a state of “combat readiness.”
Nervous tension – catch 22
Stress leads to a decrease in immune defense and melatonin and growth hormone productions (which means the body ages faster). In turn, failures in the endocrine and immune systems provoke exacerbation of chronic diseases and the development of new ones, which causes another round of nervous tension.
Women and men respond to stress differently.
Menstrual cycle disorders
Hormonal imbalance due to nervousness can cause anovulation, scanty, short, or infrequent menstruation. Against the backdrop of severe long-term stress, menstruation may even disappear completely (the so-called “wartime amenorrhea”) – the body throws all its strength into the fight for survival, so the reproductive function simply “turns off.”
Every third woman cannot get pregnant due to chronic stress.
Girls stress-eat 10 times more often than guys. This is due to the influence of female hormones: under stress, the production of estrogen decreases, followed by a decrease in the level of serotonin, the “happiness hormone,” and the synthesis of stress hormone cortisol, on the contrary, increases. These processes cause a strong feeling of hunger: you want fatty, sweet, starchy foods – foods that provide quick energy boost.
What science says about gendered stress responses?
“Fight or Flight” vs. “Tend and Befriend”:
- Men: Traditional stress responses in men often involve the “fight or flight” mechanism. When faced with stress, men may be more inclined to respond aggressively or withdraw to cope.
- Women: Research suggests that women are more likely to employ a “tend and befriend” approach. This involves seeking social support, nurturing, and forming bonds to manage stress.
- Men: Men may be more inclined to internalize stress and may not readily express their feelings. When they do open up, it might be in a problem-solving manner.
- Women: Women often engage in more open communication about their stressors, seeking empathy and validation from their support networks.
- Men: Testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, can influence stress responses. Some studies suggest it may reduce stress reactivity.
- Women: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly during menstrual cycles and menopause, can impact how women experience and cope with stress.
- Men: Men may gravitate towards physical activities or solitary pursuits like exercise, sports, or engaging in hobbies to alleviate stress.
- Women: Women are more likely to seek out social support, engage in relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga, and express themselves through creative outlets.
Stress-eating: a gendered phenomenon
While both men and women may turn to food for comfort during times of stress, there are several factors that contribute to the prevalence of stress-eating among women:
- Women: Cultural and societal norms may encourage women to be more emotionally expressive. Food can serve as a readily available, socially acceptable outlet for emotional release.
- Men: Men may be socialized to express their emotions differently, often leaning towards actions that involve physical or mental exertion.
- Women: Fluctuations in estrogen levels can influence appetite and food cravings, especially for foods high in sugar and carbohydrates.
- Men: While hormonal fluctuations in men are less dramatic, they can still influence appetite and food choices to some extent.
Societal pressure and body image:
- Women: Societal expectations regarding body image and appearance can contribute to stress-related concerns about weight and body image, leading to stress-eating behaviors.
- Men: While body image concerns are not exclusive to women, societal pressure for men to have a certain physique may influence their relationship with food during times of stress.
Helping yourself: stress control
Sometimes it is impossible to avoid stress, especially if it hits suddenly. But you can learn to help yourself, calm down and not succumb to the destructive power of emotions.
Recharge your brain
The brain needs emotional recharging – rest, positivity and a dose of motivation. Take short breaks every 2 hours during the working day: just put aside whatever you’re doing and spend the next 3-5 minutes doing something that gives you joy. Distract yourself with pictures of your children and loved ones, enjoy a funny tiktok video, watch a short of your dog … any activity that improves your mood (and don’t disturb the working environment).
Start your morning with gratitude
Have time to take control of your thoughts before the worries of the day overwhelm you. In the first minutes of waking up in the morning, think about the people who you love and who loves you, mentally thank them for all the good things in your life. Smile to the sun rays or the rain drops.
If you can’t find time to meditate, try to perceive the world around you consciously – “taste” every moment. The practice of living “here and now” brings the same effect as meditation. Be inquisitive, notice every details of what is happening around you (the color of the barista’s eyes, the pattern on the boss’s tie, the breed of a passerby’s dog …). This is a great brain booster that significantly improves concentration, attention, and ability to work under stress … and ultimately makes you feel happier.
Wish well to everyone
In you brain, wish well to everyone you meet along the way – be it on the street or in the office building. It will increase the level of oxytocin, the hormone of love and affection. In turn, you feel better, calm down and relax a little bit.
Eat food that lifts your mood
You may go to the “Wellness” category of our website where you can find lots of articles about foods that boost your mood and make you happy.
Understanding the gendered differences in stress responses and stress-eating patterns is crucial for promoting overall mental and emotional well-being. Recognizing these distinctions allows for more effective support and coping strategies tailored to individual needs. By acknowledging and addressing these unique aspects of stress, we can work towards fostering healthier, more balanced responses to life’s challenges.