Explained: Why we eat sugar when we’re stressed out

February was not an easy month. It was a time of change—new treatment, new afterschool schedule, and new editing gig. My whole routine was thrown off and when that occurs I tend to stress more.

Unfortunately that also means that my diet takes a hit, because I reach for ice cream. We all have our comfort foods, but there is something about the sugary, creamy stuff that calms me down. Honestly, all willpower is gone.

Well, it could be that sugar helps diminish the body’s stress response. According to research published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism last year, sugar may suppress the hormone cortisol and stress responses in the brain. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by your adrenal glands, usually during fight or flight scenarios, and regulates many of the changes that occur in the body during stress.

For someone who stresses easily, this sounds like great news; however, it could also mean that could gain an unhealthful amount of weight. Not good.

What’s more: eating sugar may trigger more activity in the brain—specifically in the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and is sensitive to stress. Usually, the hippocampus is less active in times of stress, but sugar inhibits its ability to chill out during this time. As a result, this could be why we are tempted to eat comfort foods when stressed.

It could be that our dietary habits determine how we react to stress, whether we overreact or underreact to it. Come to think about it, the stress started in January, but as my eating started breaking down during the month of February my stress seemed worse and my cravings for ice cream increased.

Time to go back to my feel-good eating of no dairy and added sugar.

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