Is this just stress?
January 28, 2018 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I have a lot of stress in my life right now. I've also noticed that I've been have some weird interactions with food. I think it's just from the stress, but is this anything I need to evaluate further?

Long story short, I'll eat anything put in front of me, but I find meal prep and planning very, very difficult.

For example, tonight I was at the grocery store picking up some items for my wife when I realized I didn't have anything to bring to work for lunch tomorrow. I started thinking about what I could grab when I just got a knot in my stomach and my mood tanked. I just didn't want to deal with it. I grabbed some yogurt I passed by for a mid-morning snack but an hour later I still have that knot. I don't know why but it almost feels like an adrenaline/fight-or-flight thing but without the increased heart rate.

But! It's not like I'm going to skip lunch tomorrow - I'll just end up eating some snacks I have in my desk or run across the street for some pizza.

So I don't know. I know I'm stressed (and in the tail end of some winter SAD) so don't really enjoy spending extra time on anything, which explains not wanting to pack lunches, but the whole avoiding thinking about food thing seems strange. The list of eating disorders on Wikipedia didn't have anything that seems to fit me (I don't avoid food to the point of needing a feeding tube), and the only problem this causes is spending extra money, but I want to make sure this isn't going to be a bigger issue down the road.

I expect the SAD to be doing better in a few months as it normally does, and my stress levels should be calming down as well in the next 6-weeks or so when my schedule clears up. Once I have more free time I want to get some better food planning in place but in the meantime want to make sure there's nothing beyond the stress going on here.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have literally just posted this comment in a related AskMe thread about the need to try to get 8 hours of sleep if your appetite is not to be be disruptively affected. If you aren't - then that would be an easy step to try (and one which can have other benefits beyond simply helping with food cravings).
posted by rongorongo at 10:07 PM on January 28, 2018

Between the SAD insomnia and then responsibilities requiring me to get up in the middle of the night, I have a less than ideal sleep schedule right now.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:17 PM on January 28, 2018

In your example you were thinking about lunch for WORK tomorrow when you got the knot. Could it be as simple as work being the stressor, not the lunch? I know that happens to me. Thinking about lunch when I'm shuffling around in my sweats at home? No problem. Thinking about brunch with my friends? Yippee! Thinking of the grind of what to pack every day for my currently stressful and unpleasant job? Ugh, I just feel gross and don't want to bother. Could that be an angle to explore?
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 10:17 PM on January 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think stomach acid is the crux of this.

When you think about food, your stomach makes acid in anticipation, but when the food doesn't arrive the acid becomes a liability which can damage the lining of your stomach, so your body puts the brakes on acid production.

Acid production depends on an enzyme (carbonic anhydrase) in the parietal cells of your stomach which acts on carbon dioxide, and in order to put the brakes on acid production your body causes a small anxiety attack that makes you breathe harder and thereby reduces the availability of carbon dioxide to the enzyme -- and so your mood tanks.

Insomnia probably does play a role in this, because extra endocannabinoids apparently are necessary to make your body catch up on REM sleep, and those extra endocannabinoids are likely making you hungrier than you would be normally, and that makes your stomach react more strongly to thoughts of food.

As for anything you need to further evaluate, the bacterium which causes ulcers, Helicobacter pylori, potentiates acid damage to the stomach, and I think you might want to get the breath test for it.
posted by jamjam at 1:27 AM on January 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

So, are you saying you are okay with eating but the thought of dealing with prepping your food gets you anxious and avoidant of food? I get exactly the same thing when I'm stressed out. I love eating, but the hassle of making food gets me so down when I'm feeling anxious/out of sorts that I end up skipping meals or eating crap instead of regular food.

I think it's okay to throw money at it in the short term; in the long term can you plan ahead by stocking up on healthy foods which require minimal prep? My favourite kind of food for this situation is ready-made packaged soup. You can get them in healthy varieties and all you need to do is heat them up. You can get some in microwaveable plastic pots, so you don't even have to do any clearing up after.

Not sure if this answers your question but hope this helps anyway.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:16 AM on January 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

Personally I think it’s the stress. I’m not usually one to dither over food or avoid eating, but I have newborn twins at home and my mom just passed away. I find it a real struggle to figure out what to eat. Generally if I can get something down I’ll feel better. Lately that’s been hard boiled eggs for me.
posted by cabingirl at 5:53 AM on January 29, 2018

When I am stressed I sometimes find that any unanticipated decision making work is almost impossible. So it may not be about the food specifically, but about finding out that you had to make another choice about the future, and your brain just noped out of it. Best I can do in those situations is to routinize every decision that doesn't absolutely need to be thought about - lunch tomorrow? same sandwich as today.
Once I'm less stressed, I enjoy making choices again.
posted by crocomancer at 6:03 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, are you secretly me?? I get like this weird panic at the grocery store that tends to manifest in me buying weird pantry orphans that don't make good work lunches or a bunch of bad snacks. The worst.

I was doing okay for awhile when I started getting the chopped salad kits from Aldi and fashioning those into a few days worth of lunch, but even that became too much effort after awhile because cleaning all my little lunch food containers afterwards became SUCH a chore that I stopped doing it. Right now, I got one of these soup thermoses off of Amazon and love it and just buy canned soup and pop it in there in the morning before work. I never thought I'd have the time in the morning to stop and heat up soup, but it seriously takes five minutes start to finish and then I don't even have to leave my office to heat up lunch at meal times, I can just sad desk lunch some hot soup. It's been alright.

Yeah, I wish I had more insight or helpful tips in this matter, but honestly, I struggle hard with this. Seems like stress is definitely a common denominator though. My hypothesis (for me) is that, because I'm in grad school part time with work, I'm very much taking things day by day just to get through, and anything that involves distance planning is like...I don't have the scope for that right now?? It's so stressful to think about any kind of longer term planning projects when I'm knee deep in the weeds. Not sure if any of that rings true for you, but I definitely hear you on the "food prep is such a good idea, why is my brain rebelling so hard??" front.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:00 AM on January 29, 2018

I feel like this could definitely be related to stress. I get those feelings sometimes too. Suddenly remembering a required task or realizing I haven’t done something yet can bring on a little surge of stressful and sort of frantic feelings. Interrupted sleep, like you mention, can absolutely make the situation worse. I hope you feel better soon!
posted by sucre at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2018

This isn't unusual - just google "stress eating" or "emotional eating." Short version, when you're stressed your brain will prioritize easy/readymade/comfort food over healthier food or food that takes labor, even mental labor. All kinds of understanding and hacks for it when you start Googling.
posted by Miko at 8:57 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

This sounds like anxiety to me. I'm not a doctor, just someone who has had anxiety. I think it can be related to stress in that you have anxiety about making decisions. Sometimes in my life, making all the decisions I need to feels overwhelming, like there's just too much I need to figure out and I might make the wrong decision, so it just sparks anxiety. My guess is that it's not about the food so much as the decision. For those days, I use TryCaviar or Postmates, but then again I need to make a decision about that too, but at least I'll have leftovers and won't need to plan my next couple meals.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:29 AM on January 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hey thanks everyone. As I've been going through this stressful time I've been trying to recognize my limits so that I can work within them. I got a little concerned because *food* can be such a hot topic, but it makes sense that planning for food (or whatever) would also have limits I'm bumping up against. I appreciate all the thoughts/opinions/ideas!
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:34 PM on January 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

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