Stress and Hunger

by John Williamson © Copyright 2010

Have you noticed that the sensation of hunger is similar to that of worry and anxiety? There may be occasions when you think you are anxious when in fact you are actually hungry. The opposite is more commonly known, where some have a tendency to eat when they are anxious, their minds mistaking stress for hunger.

Imagine an average person who has some natural stress in their life. They get up one morning and because they have a particularly demanding day, skip breakfast. Now because they are so focused on the tasks of the day, they are unaware that they are hungry. However, they are increasingly aware that their stress levels are rising, and start to feel as though they are not going to cope, that they just donít have the energy to survive this. Actually, itís all getting just a little too much.

Now imagine what happens over a period of time if your mind has mistaken hunger for anxiety.

You get up in the morning and you are already feeling the start of the anxiety for the day. This worries you further because you are not aware of why you are anxious. You start to worry about all the small stuff, finding reasons to be stressed. Part of you knows itís not the small stuff and considers that there must be something under your radar, sub-conscience, going on. You are use to feeling nauseous, especially at the thought of food, so you tend not to eat and skip breakfast most mornings. As the morning goes on the sensation gets stronger. Your anxiety soars to the point that you feel you canít cope and the day has hardly started. As the day goes on you may eat, however your body is already wired and you are now anxious about why you were stressed in the first place. You donít really know why you are anxious. You consider you are losing the plot and this erodes your self confidence.

Now, itís not necessarily as clear cut as this. Often what will start the process is actual anxiety, leading to feelings that suppress your appetite. As you get hungrier the feelings increase, and because you associate these feelings with stress you feel the stress is getting worse, to the point you feel you canít cope. I am not suggesting that people are only hungry rather than stressed however I am suggesting that in some cases it may be a contributing factor that can exacerbate the condition.

Many jobs today stretch the time between meals to up to five, six hours apart, and because many of us are conscious of our weight, we tend not to snack between meals. You may find that by the end of the working day you are increasingly stressed as you struggle to cope with the demands of the day. If this happens regularly the accumulative effect may make you think that you are incapable, eroding your confidence. Our body needs fuel, no wonder we get to the point of feeling that we canít cope.

So, when you feel anxious or stressed, ask yourself when you last ate. If it is more than three to four hours ago, chances are you need to eat. Try where possible to eat healthily, as other conditions can arise from the poor eating habits caused by stress, like insulin intolerance. Avoid stimulants like coffee as they stimulate the same chemicals as stress does, also some drinks, like real coffee, can irritate your stomach further, adding to the queasy, nauseous sensation.

About the author

John Williamson is a Shiatsu practitioner, registered with the Shiatsu Society (UK) since 1998, and a founder partner of Life Medicine. He runs classes on Acupressure, Do-In and Shiatsu in Glasgow. Discover more at and in John's pages at