Stress is any change in your normal routine or health. Stress occurs when bad things happen, as well as happy things. Getting a raise or promotion is stress, just as getting fired from your job is stress. Speculative changes cause just as much stress as veritable changes. Pensiveness or anguish about whether you will get that new job is stress the same as being offered a new position is stress.
Often people use food to comfort themselves, relieve stress and have something to do when they're bored or sad. Many people mistakenly use food to accommodate certain basic needs, such as getting rest, expressing feelings, being intellectually stimulated and receiving comfort. Food isn't going to supply any of that. While many people use food in response to emotions like anger, frustration, loneliness and sadness, stress is felt to be the main cause of emotional eating.
Imagine that it is mid-morning and you encounter unexpected stress. Your boss e-mails you about a huge accounting error you've made, or your pediatrician calls to tell you your 6-year-old's lab results are abnormal. Your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. During a fight-or-flight reaction, your cells demand sugar for fuel -- and quickly. Unfortunately, on this particular morning, you skipped breakfast, and supper the night before was ice cream and a diet Coke.
You have a minimal amount of circulating blood sugar available to handle your stressful event. So, your liver releases part of its stockpile of stored blood sugar. When the stressful event is over, your blood sugar is low and depleted. Low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia, causes weakness, anxiety, nervousness, shakiness and confusion. You feel weak, tremulous and irritable. You reach for a doughnut or a candy bar because your body craves sugar.
That was not the best choice. Eating simple sugars and junk foods will indeed raise your blood sugar, but only for a short time. As soon as that ingested burst of sugar is metabolized, your circulating levels of blood sugar drops back precipitously low. And, the cycle of irritability and poor mental performance continues.
So, What can you do?
1. Understand the Stress Response. When faced with a stressful situation, your brain signals the adrenal glands to release a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol, in turn, releases glucose and fatty acids into the bloodstream to provide energy to the muscles. High cortisol levels result in increased appetite and fat deposits, typically in the cervical area, trunk and abdomen. Why Stress Makes You Eat ?
2. Learn How Stress Impacts Eating. Stress can increase your appetite and make you crave foods that contain high calories and few nutrients. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet determined why stress-eaters tend to gravitate toward certain types of food.
3. Don't Worry, Be Happy. So, what can you do to decrease stress? Instead of seeking comfort in food, engage in a pleasurable activity that doesn't involve calories! You might get a massage, visit a friend, read a book, watch an old movie or play games with your child.
4. Take Charge. When faced with a stressful event, ask yourself what you can change to minimize the pressure. Elect to take charge of the situation instead of being victimized by it. In the process, your body will reduce the amount of cortisol it produces, which can minimize the harmful effects of prolonged hormone release.
5. Eat a Variety of Foods. Because stress affects blood sugar, it is important to eat healthy meals throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels. Stress-eaters tend to reach for sugary carbohydrates, so be sure also to include the recommended amounts of protein and fat in each meal.
6. Eat Breakfast. A well-balanced breakfast provides protein, carbohydrate and fat that helps keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the day, reducing the tendency to reach for a candy bar or soft drink.
7. Replenish Vitamin and Mineral Stores. Stress causes the body to "burn" more vitamins and minerals, specifically vitamin B complex, magnesium and zinc; these nutrients are needed for blood sugar balance. When their levels drop, stress levels increase. Also, the adrenal glands require more vitamin C and pantothenic acid (part of the vitamin B complex) during stressful times. To offset these needs, eat fresh vegetables and fruits daily.
8. Get Physical. Moderate exercise can help reduce the body's production of cortisol during stressful times. Numerous studies have shown that moderate physical activity helps modulate mood, reduce stress, improve self-esteem and program the brain for optimism instead of pessimism. Do aerobic and anaerobic training on a regular basis, but don't overdo it. Taking your frustration out during a vigorous workout will further increase cortisol production.
9. Get Plenty of Rest. Sleep deprivation affects blood sugar levels, increases cortisol and reduces the production of leptin (a hormone that signals that you are full). Go to bed a little earlier each night during trying times and aim for eight hours of sleep.
How do you know if you're really hungry or if it's stress induced?
There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Emotional hunger tends to come on suddenly, while physical hunger occurs more gradually. When you're eating for emotional reasons, you tend to crave a specific food like ice cream, candy or pizza, and only that food will meet your need. When you're actually hungry, you're more open to options. Eating for emotional reasons tends to leave us feeling guilty when eating for physical hunger does not.
Since stress is here to stay, everyone needs to develop methods for invoking the relaxation response -- the natural unwinding of the stress response. Relaxation lowers blood pressure, improves respiration, lowers pulse rates, releases muscle tension and eases emotional strains. This response is highly individualized, but there are certain approaches that seem to work, including: exercise, deep breathing, muscle relaxation, meditation and having a good network of social support.
Weight management is all about health. In a culture that has produced Barbie and a media filled with waiflike images of male and female celebrities (who often look way too thin), what's needed is an accurate and realistic assessment of our body-image goals and the fortitude to carry out a healthy weight management plan.
There are 30 to 40 billion fat cells in your body. At times, they may seem like an army of enemies out to sabotage your appearance in a swimsuit, but they saved our ancestors from starving by storing fat to get them through lean times. Trouble is, we have more than enough food available in America in this day and age, and we're usually not trekking across frozen tundra or arid steppes in search of the next encampment.
Combine our hefty calorie intakes with generally sedentary lives -- sitting in front of the computer all day, driving from office to home, plopping down on the couch with the remote control to unwind -- and it's easy to see why too many Americans weigh more than they should.
Being overweight can damage much more than your ego. Overweight people have increased risks of developing high blood pressure, high triglycerides and low HDL ("good") cholesterol, type 2 diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, gallbladder disease, stroke, respiratory problems, osteoarthritis and various kinds of cancer. Due to these problems, overweight people may have a substandard quality of life and possibly die sooner than their healthy counterparts.
There is good news; however, if you are overweight. Even a five to 10 percent weight loss can lower your health risks. You may find your energy level and confidence increasing as the pounds come off, too. It's also true that genetics plays a role in how your body deals with calories. A family history of obesity increases your odds of ending up obese by 25 to 30 percent, but that just means you may have to work a little harder than those without such a history to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. You're not doomed. You can choose to adopt healthy habits.
Here are some things that can help.
Before you set any weight loss goals, be realistic. The goal isn't necessarily to look like a super model. A good way to assess your weight health is to measure your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This method is better at estimating body fat and health risks than other methods... including the bathroom scale. If your BMI is 19 to 24, there's probably not a health advantage to losing weight. Keep up healthy habits to stay in this ideal range. If your BMI is 25 or more, losing weight might improve your health. If your BMI is under 19, you're most likely underweight.
STOCK THE PANTRY WITH HEALTHY FOODS
Instead of jumping on the diet-of-the-week bandwagon, experts advise eating a diet with 50 to 65 percent carbohydrate (emphasizing whole grains, legumes, fruits and veggies); 20 to 25 percent protein; and the remainder from mostly unsaturated fat (olive oil over butter or meat fat, for example). High-fiber foods will fill you up and are not very calorie-dense. They also take a while to chew, giving your body time to signal you that it's time to put your fork down after you've had enough. Instead of potato chips or crackers containing hydrogenated oils, opt for almonds, peanuts, soy nuts, air-popped popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast or mixed seasonings, carrots, grapes, pretzels or other non-fried snacks.
EAT WITH INTENTION This one seems easy, yet few of us do it in our multi-tasking frenzy. For many people, eating while driving, watching TV or working at the computer is practically second nature. But these distractions take away from our enjoyment and awareness of what we're eating, often contributing to eating too fast and overeating. Make a point of sitting at the table, turning off the TV and computer and setting aside your work for mealtimes. In addition many overweight people feel they have to sneak their food or that they don't deserve to enjoy their food. It's better to sit and really enjoy some of what you really want than to sneak it or end up depriving yourself until you end up bingeing out of frustration.
GIVE UP YOUR MEMBERSHIP TO THE CLEAN PLATE CLUB As a child, you may have been encouraged to finish every last morsel of food on your plate. While we certainly don't want kids in India to go hungry, stuffing yourself to the brink of exploding won't help anyone, including you. Get used to pushing your plate aside when you've had enough.
PORTIONS In this age of super-size everything, it's easy to lose sight of what a portion of food actually looks like. To keep portion sizes in check, use small dishes to serve meals and desserts. Instead of a cereal bowl, use a dessert dish for ice cream. Put your pasta in a cereal bowl instead of loading it onto a gargantuan plate.
PLAN AHEAD The amount of planning you do for the week ahead can make or break healthy eating patterns. Have healthy snacks on hand and bring sandwiches if you'll be away from home at lunch or staying late at the office. Determine whether you'll be walking by a store, where you can buy yogurt and/or fruit during a snack or lunch break.
LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR WORKOUT It's not always easy to drag yourself out of bed for a morning jog. If that's the case, find some other aerobic activity that you enjoy enough to keep doing. Walking is one easy option. Take a dance or yoga class, or sign up at a gym and ask a trainer to help you use the weights. Find out if there's a local indoor pool for lap swimmers; it's easy on the joints and a darn good workout. Aim for 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week-getting your heart pumping is important. (If you have health problems, be sure to ask your doctor to help you devise an exercise program that is safe, and before beginning an exercise program, become familiar with your maximum heart rate so you don't put unnecessary stress on your heart.)