Why you stress-eat and how to stop it

Lesotho Times - - Health -

SOME­TIMES it hap­pens af­ter you get an an­gry email from your boss. Or, maybe be­cause you re­cently con­nected with a new love in­ter­est...and now he or she’s gone MIA. What­ever the dilemma, cue your hand in the bag of Chee­tos or a visit to the kitchen for, well...what­ever’s there.

You know what it is: stress eat­ing. “It’s per­fectly hu­man to want to avoid pain and seek re­lief,” says Minh-hai Alex, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and founder of Mind­ful Nutri­tion. “Stress eat­ing usu­ally hap­pens when we want to dis­con­nect from the mo­ment. It’s like chang­ing the chan­nel in our brain to try to change how we feel,” she ex­plains. Here’s why food is such a salve for stress — and how to stop the cy­cle.

This is why you turn to food when you’re stressed

It’s no sur­prise if you sud­denly feel fam­ished when dead­lines or crises strike. “Stress ac­ti­vates your adrenal glands to re­lease cor­ti­sol, in­creas­ing your ap­petite,” says Melissa Mccreery, PHD, ACC, psy­chol­o­gist and the emo­tional eat­ing ex­pert be­hind the site Too Much On Her Plate. Stress also im­pedes hunger hor­mones, like ghre­lin, that reg­u­late your ap­petite, re­search shows. If the anx­i­ety is cut­ting into your sleep, a lack of zzz’s ramps up your ap­petite even more.

Un­for­tu­nately, that anx­i­ety-in­duced hunger can have long-term con­se­quences for your waist­line. In fact, one new study found that women who re­ported they were stressed burned fewer calo­ries and fat, and had a higher in­sulin re­sponse af­ter eat­ing a higher fat meal. Pub­lished in the jour­nal Bi­o­log­i­cal Psy­chi­a­try, the re­searchers con­cluded that these stress-in­duced changes led women to burn about 100 fewer calo­ries per day — a dif­fer­ence that could cause you to pack on five ki­los in a year.

When you’re un­der stress, you of­ten feel out of con­trol and over­whelmed — and that can leak into your eat­ing habits, Mccreery says. So it’s no sur­prise that you go af­ter junk food like a hun­gry lion, rather than keep­ing up your nor­mally healthy habits. “You’re wor­ried about the past or the fu­ture — not what you’re eat­ing in the present,” she adds.

Stress de­pletes the cog­ni­tive re­sources you need to re­main fo­cused and re­silient, and to prac­tice cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing, says Mccreery. That’s why get­ting el­bow-deep in a pint of mint chip al­ways feels eas­ier than ac­tu­ally com­ing up with a plan for how to tackle that su­per tough work pro­ject.

When junk food is call­ing your

name While it’s too bad you don’t crave cel­ery sticks and car­rots dur­ing crazed mo­ments, that would go against bi­ol­ogy. Fries, snack mixes, cook­ies and ice cream are go-tos be­cause these high-carb, high-fat eats in­crease the brain’s feel-good dopamine re­sponse, Alex ex­plains. Then, next time you get into a bind, you’ll hear the siren song of cho­co­late chips be­cause your nog­gin has come to ex­pect the re­ward­ing hit of dopamine — and knows where to find it. (Ahem, cook­ies.)

Not only that, but it’s easy for stress snack­ing to be­come an in- grained habit. A 2015 study in The Jour­nal of Clin­i­cal En­docrinol­ogy & Me­tab­o­lism dis­cov­ered that one rea­son we eat high sugar foods is be­cause sugar damp­ens stress-in­duced cor­ti­sol re­sponses. Trans­la­tion: You feel bet­ter on a sugar high. Over time, your brain may start to rely on these foods to sim­mer down.

Prob­lem is, any­one who’s done it (and who hasn’t?) knows what it feels like af­ter you eat for emo­tional rea­sons — the guilt and frus­tra­tion hit you like a hang­over. Re­search from Penn State backs up what we’ve all sus­pected — that eat­ing bad-for-you foods can make a grumpy mood even worse.

How to stop stress eat­ing Ready to break free from stress eat­ing and bring back hap­pi­ness to your eats? Try some of these sim­ple tricks next time anx­i­ety strikes.

1. Fo­cus on the real is­sue. We all know food is just a crutch when we’re stressed. “Stress eat- ing is not the pri­mary prob­lem, but a symp­tom of un­met needs,” says Alex. Ask your­self ‘How do I feel?’ or ‘What do I need?’ to fig­ure out what’s re­ally get­ting un­der your skin.

2. Think long-term. Take a minute to fo­cus on the fu­ture (whether that means re­call­ing your weight loss goals, or how awe­some you want to look on va­ca­tion next month) be­fore you give in to stress eat­ing. It can help get you out of the mo­ment so you make health­ier food choices in­stead of suc­cumb­ing to the lure of a tasty treat, sug­gests a 2014 study.

3. Get mind­ful. In a study in the Jour­nal of Obe­sity, women who un­der­went mind­ful­ness train­ing — learn­ing stress re­duc­tion tech­niques, how to rec­og­nize hunger, and pay at­ten­tion to taste — were less apt to stress eat and lost more belly fat com­pared to a con­trol group. Next time you’re feel­ing taxed, try this ex­er­cise. You’ll learn to iden­tify your feel­ings, ac­cept the un­pleas­ant ones and fo­cus on your breath­ing so you can fight the au­to­matic urge to reach for a snack.

4. Be kind to your­self. “Self-com­pas­sion can de­crease stress eat­ing,” says Alex. “When you’re a kind, un­der­stand­ing friend to your­self, it’s eas­ier to re­sist the urge to try to dis­con­nect through stress eat­ing,” she adds. If you do stress eat, prom­ise that you won’t beat your­self up and un­der­stand that it hap­pens to ev­ery­one some­times. That can help stop you from eat­ing out of fail­ure and help you make bet­ter choices later.

5. If all else fails... Go ahead and in­dulge. “Food is a lovely, com­fort­ing thing,” says McCreery. So if you’re go­ing to do it any­way, she rec­om­mends re­ally en­joy­ing it. “Sit down, let your­self re­lax, and taste the ice cream.” Of course, do so in mod­er­a­tion. Plan on sa­vor­ing a small brownie rather than the whole batch. — CNN

Even re­act­ing to stress by eat­ing junk food or skip­ping your work­outs can ac­tu­ally make your stress worse.

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