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stress-and-overeatingStress Leads to Emotional Overeating

There is nothing better than a big bowl of ice cream, some chocolate or even a large bag of salty potato chips to make us feel better when we are stressed or feeling sad.  After all, Bridget Jones of "Bridget Jone's Diary" pounded down bowls of ice cream to make herself feel better regularly as we all laughed! Truth is, food has comforted us from the time we were babies, satisfying our little stomachs and preparing us for long naps. But now that we are older, overeating can become a bad way to deal with stress.  This is not a healthy way to deal with the tension, but it is very common. Studies show there may be other reasons why we reach for "comfort foods" while stressed.

Symptoms of Stress

Changes in Appetite

hen we become stressed, hormones can cause our appetites to literally shut down.  Stress causes the adrenal glands to "wake up" and release adrenaline, which commonly prepares our bodies for the "fight or flight" response.  This is why hunger is reduced, albiet initially.  But as emotional stress continues and becomes commonplace, those adrenal glands change their tune and release hormones that actually make us more hungry and keep our appetites up.  Chronic stress causes this hormone (cortisol) to stay elevated, making us hungry all the time.

Cravings for Bad Food

Stress also affects what type of food we want to eat.  The common denominator seems to be foods that are high in sugar, high in fat, or both. Experts surmise that cortisol and insulin are behind the cravings, in addition to the "hunger hormone," ghrelin.  And eating fatty, sugary foods actually seems to alleviate the stress when it comes to our brain chemistry.

Other Results of Stress Symptoms on the Body

In addition to eating poorly, people with high stress levels don't sleep properly, shun exercise and turn to drinking alcohol.  But all of these coping mechanisms can significantly lead to weight gain and exacerbate our situations!

Men, Women and Stress

When dealing with stress, women are typically more likely to turn to food.  Men, on the other hand, turn to alcohol or smoking to alleviate the anxiety.

How to Deal with Stress

If you are a stress eater, keep those foods that "push you over the edge" out of the house.  Out of sight, out of mind!  If they are unavailable, then you may turn to something more healthy that is.  If you are experiencing symptoms of stress, here is a better way of combating destructive behaviors.
  • Consider Meditation or Alone Time.  Numerous studies have shown that quiet time lowers blood pressure, reduces your chance of heart disease and helps you be more mindful of situations in your life. During meditation you can focus on how to handle stressful situations and the positive choices you can substitute for the destructive ones.
  • Up Your Exercise Regime. Exercise can get your cortisol leves under control over time, leaving you less hungry and less apt to store belly fat.  Alternate between high impact and relaxing exercise practices, such as yoga or stretch therapy sessions.
  • Become More Social.  Meet up with friends regularly and share experiences with them.  Studies have shown that people that maintain a healthy social life reduce their stress significantly.  Think about it:  everyone has their own battles to fight.  Sharing with one another takes a load off and encourages us to keep going.
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