We are now half-way through our series on the Top 4 Excuses For Being Overweight. So far, we’ve tackled two of the biggies. Let’s look back to see what we have learned so far.
If you suffer from either of these excuses, I encourage you to look back at the first two posts in this series. If you would like to dive deeper into the “why” behind your food struggles, check out my book, Find Your Weigh.
Stress is an inevitable byproduct of being human. We all face situations and circumstances that are beyond our control, yet our modern-day society can trick us into thinking that we should be in control at all times. Although technology makes many life tasks easier, it also makes us feel like we should have our act together all the time! You may be saying, yep that’s me…I eat because I am stressed!
So, how does all this stress affect our weight? One common defense mechanism is the fight or flight mode. This is the tendency to either stand up to your problems and responsibilities or run from them. All of us cope with stress differently. Some of us stand up to the problem, look it squarely in the eye and deal with it without another thought. Others of us find it difficult to process stressful events, which triggers the flight response.
And where does the stress eater run? Yep, straight to food. Food provides immediate satisfaction because it stimulates the pleasure sensors in our brains and, most importantly, it doesn’t talk back.
But, while it may not talk out loud, it can wreak serious havoc on your metabolism. How does stress affect our metabolism?
Studies have shown that hormones play a role in elevating the desire to eat foods containing carbohydrates during prolonged periods of stress. When our brains receive stimuli that indicate a period of stress on the body, they respond by releasing cortisol, a hormone whose primary function is to raise blood sugar and promote the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein and fat. In response to higher blood sugar levels, the pancreas releases extra insulin, which has the effect of lowering blood sugar rather quickly. This, in turn, causes a craving for foods rich in carbohydrates – e.g., comfort foods.
Hunger itself produces stress. Hunger is your body’s way of signaling that your fuel tank is empty and needs refilling. Actually, the physiological feelings of hunger can closely resemble our physiological response to stress: irritability, inability to think clearly and light-headedness. Now, pair the natural feelings of hunger with a stressful situation and you have the perfect breeding ground for poor food choices.
It helps to take hunger out of the picture. Make sure you plan healthy, satisfying snacks to be eaten throughout the day at 2-to-3-hour intervals. Make sure that these snacks are rich in fiber and protein and low in sugar. Anyone who has read many of my posts will know that I highly recommend nuts as a go-to snack because they satisfy hunger and they consist of healthy fats. If your body is well-satisfied, you will have more energy and attention to focus on the element of stress.
All of us react differently to stress. For some, stress can interfere with one’s concentration(reading over the same page multiple times), others may notice a slight tremor in their hands and still others react by becoming increasingly agitated or easily provoked.
If you are a stress eater, it will help you greatly to pinpoint and identify your trigger. Then, you can equip yourself to deal with the stress in positive ways that don’t involve food.
Ok, you know your trigger, now what? You need to predetermine a calming action. It can seem counterproductive to take a time-out when you are stressed with too much to do. However, performing a calming action gives you the focused opportunity to acknowledge your stress and deal with it proactively.
Here are some possible calming activities (several of these can also be performed simultaneously).
Now, in terms of stress eating, here is the key. You must vow to yourself that you will not resort to food before you have performed a calming activity.
Wait to eat until you are no longer experiencing the physiological trigger. This will help to reinforce the habit of mindful eating. Reducing stress will not only help you bring your weight in check; it will also enhance your outlook and relationships.
Have you been following along with this series? Have you successfully integrated any of the solutions so far? If so, I would love to hear from you. It would be a great encouragement!
(This post first published in May, 2015)