Whenever I get stressed, I crave a big bowl of popcorn with tons of salt. Really, I would just eat a handful of rock salt if it were at all socially acceptable. As it turns out, having certain food cravings could be a sign of anxiety. It's no surprise that you want these comfort foods as soon as that tension in your life starts increasing.
First, though, it's helpful to understand a little more about anxiety itself. The most common mental illness in the United States, anxiety disorders affect around 40 million Americans over the age of 18, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And it isn't simply a case of feeling nervous before a big event. Anxiety is defined as a feeling of fear or the anticipation of a future threat, according to Anxiety.org. It's no wonder people dealing with anxiety try to calm down those feelings with food.
Now, this isn't to say that it's bad to crave a salty or chocolaty snack whenever anxiety is getting the best of you. (Seriously, don't come between me and my popcorn.) But it's good to be aware of the potential connection. The next time you're drooling over the thought of a giant bag of chips, maybe take a second to assess your anxiety levels at the moment.
If you daydream about pretzels or fries just layered in salt flakes, take note. "When we are stressed our nervous system and adrenal glands (the glands that sit on top of our kidneys) have to work harder," said nutritionist Fiona Tuck in HuffPost. "This means that the body uses up more sodium and this is why we often crave salty, crunchy foods when we are under stress." This is why that bag of chips looks extra-enticing when you're experiencing anxiety.
That giant bowl of macaroni is the very definition of a comfort food. As it turns out, consuming any carbohydrate (other than fructose) boosts serotonin levels, which can boost mood, as explained in Psychology Today. Basically, it's natural to seek out carbs when you're feeling anxious.
Don't just blame your sweet tooth. Craving sugary foods may be an early indication of rising anxiety levels, according to AnxietyCentre.com. Basically, increased stress taxes the body, which then craves the quick energy hit from sweet foods.
Texture counts, too. Eating crunchy foods may help relieve stress while you chew, according to University Health News Daily. It's a nervous habit.
Caffeine and anxiety have a somewhat complicated relationship. Plenty of people cope with feelings of anxiety or stress by drinking a cup of coffee, because the caffeine provides a nice little pick-me-up, according to Healthline. However, too much caffeine can stimulate your flight-or-flight response and actually make the anxiety worse, as explained in Everyday Health. (If you're like me, you respond by drinking another cup of coffee and falling deeper into the caffeine anxiety spiral.)
Are you in the habit of crunching on ice cubes all the time? The drive to eat ice (AKA pagophagia) is a form of pica, or the eating of non-food objects, according to Psychology Today. This desire to eat ice (or dirt or clay) may be related to the calming of anxiety.
Sometimes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sounds better than anything else. As it turns out, peanut butter contains beta-sitosterol, which anecdotal evidence suggests is great at reducing feelings of anxiety, according to Healthline. Whether it's peanut butter or crunchy chips or super-sweet candies, food cravings may reveal so much about your anxiety levels.