Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The crucial link between stress and overeating

In my career as a consulting hypnotist, stress control and weight management are two of the biggest issues that I help people with. This detailed article on illustrates the critical relationship between the two issues.

So why exactly does stress make you stuff yourself silly? Your body and mind react to all stress the same way, regardless of whether the stress is physical or mental. If you're having a stressful day at the office for instance, your brain perceives that to be equivalent to being chased by tigers through the jungles of Southeast Asia all afternoon (more or less). And it instructs your body to release hormones like adrenaline, which activates the age-old "flight or fight" response (or is it "fight or flight" ?), and cortisol, whose job it is to get your body to immediately replace those calories you either just used up as you deftly escaped those tigers by taking to the trees, or DIDN'T use up as you sat in your office getting a horrible annual evaluation from your slave-driver boss. So, you see, regardless of the stressful situation, you get very, very hungry. And you stay hungry as the cortisol continues to flow through you.

If you were indeed in the jungles of Southeast Asia, you'd reach for some delicious and healthy wild edibles (or tiger meat, depending on the outcome of the encounter) and replenish your calories that way. But for most cube-dwelling Americans, the easiest option inevitably turns out to be those delicious-looking danishes perched precariously in the coils of the cafeteria vending machine, waiting to be gently dislodged with a few quarters and an easy press of "A6" on the keypad. The euphoria-inducing effects of these sugary "foods" allows them to quickly become associated with tension-reduction in our own minds. So we reach for them every time something feels wrong, and they become our comfort food. And that, of course, is very, very bad if you're trying to stay healthy.

The article suggests 7 healthy ways to reduce stress and keep your weight under control.

1) Do some quick exercise when you feel stressed. This helps to flush the cortisol out of your system, curtailing hunger while relieving your stress.

2) Eat slowly. No inhaling! Slowing down and being more aware of getting full decreases the portion size you consume before feeling satisfied, and also lowers cortisol levels.

3) Don't be so strict when it comes to dieting. Strict dieting causes a drop in blood sugar, which the body perceives as stressful. This causes that mean and nasty cortisol to rise again, making you ravenous, and your self-control goes out the window. Eat well-balanced, nutritious meals so that your blood sugar stays even throughout the day. I always suggest to my clients that all their meals must contain portions of carbs, protein, fat and fiber.

4) You'll appreciate this one: Give in once in a while. It's okay to have a small sweet snack to stop your cortisol production, than to risk having it get out of control. But you must know when to stop. Take precautions to prevent yourself from eating the whole bag of cookies.

5) No mo' joe. If you insist on coffee, make it decaf. Stress + caffeine = more cortisol production. And that results in the dreaded stress-eating response.

6) Eat a breakfast that's high in nutrients like Vitamin B and C, calcium, and magnesium. Deficiencies in these nutrients leads to cortisol production and food cravings. Try some citrus fruit or juice, some yogurt, and something bready like toast or a bagel.

7) Get enough shut-eye. The body perceives loss of sleep as a major source of stress, which results in increased appetite and weight gain. So be sure to get your 7-9 hours on the Serta.

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