Stress and Eating
Some people respond to stress with a trip to the fridge. But there are lots of healthier strategies, like listening to music or taking a walk
Stress in our lives
Stress involves your body, mind, environment, and behavior. People respond to stress in different ways. What disturbs one person may be meaningless to another. Some people respond to stress with a racing heart and anger; others respond with nausea and fear. How we think and act are keys to how we handle stress.
People who wish to lose weight often cite stress as a major issue. Some people point to a single stressful event, such as the loss of a loved one. Some people respond to stress by eating more; others eat less. Many people find it hard to exercise when they are stressed; others feel that stress makes it hard to keep the weight off and puts them at risk for weight regain.
If you get used to eating to take the edge off stress, it could become automatic. Food may start to affect your brain in a manner that helps with stress.
It is no surprise that stress has an effect on eating and physical activity. Clear links exist between stress and health. Stress may affect many aspects of your health: it may make you more likely to catch a cold or more prone to a chronic ailment such as heart disease, diabetes, or asthma. As such, it makes sense that lower stress leads to people who are happier and healthier. Less stress also helps control how much one eats, how active one is, and how much one weighs. Please remember to discuss any stress-related issues with your healthcare provider.
How could you keep stress from thwarting your weight control? Here are 2 possible solutions:
- Respond to stress with other activities. Eating is one way to cope with stress. Most people can find other ways to take the edge off. What can do it for you? Can it be music, a good book, a walk, a visit with a good friend, or something else? Keep a few healthy activities at hand so that you know what you can do when stress makes you want to eat
- Reduce stress. This is appealing because less stress may help with other areas of your life. Stress management techniques may also help
How you perceive personal events can be crucial to how you respond to them.
Here are 2 examples of stress management:
- Relaxation training. Good stress management programs teach relaxation skills. When you start to feel stressed, try to counter it with relaxation techniques. Relaxation skills may help you calm down before stress leads to overeating or another regrettable result. Some techniques are self-massage, thinking about a favorite place, and noticing small things. Pay attention to the textures of things near you or the way you breathe. A short break may also help lower your stress
- Appraisal. When you experience a stressful event, you first appraise the situation and then respond. The appraisal (how you think) determines how you feel and respond. Suppose your boss gives you a poor evaluation at work. If you appraise it poorly, you might suffer a blow to your self-esteem, become depressed, and eat more than you need. You might even blame the boss, get angry, and strike back in some way that is potentially harmful. If you appraise it well, you may choose instead to think of ways to improve your job performance
Relaxation training and modifying the appraisal process constitute the key parts of a good stress management program. To find one, ask a healthcare professional for assistance.
Here are some examples:
- George’s boss gave him a poor performance evaluation. "I really screwed up this time," he said to himself. "I will probably get fired for this." George’s self-esteem suffered greatly. He thought about it many times during the workday. Each time it came to mind, he worried more. He skipped his breaks and drank coffee instead. When he got home, he began to eat. At the end of the evening, his self-esteem had worsened when he realized how much he had eaten
- Jerry also received a poor performance evaluation from his boss. "I goofed this time, but it’s not the end of the world," he told himself. "I'll ask my boss for specific feedback on how to improve." Jerry’s more positive and realistic thoughts helped his self-esteem rise above the occasion. When he caught himself worrying, Jerry let it go and took a short break. He listened to his breathing until he felt more relaxed. When he got home, Jerry went for a walk
Stress and physical activity
As mentioned before, stress may be closely linked to physical activity. Many people skip their physical activities when they feel stressed. When stress arises at work or home, it may be hard to get active; you may have trouble finding the time, energy, or motivation. Yet, physical activity may be just what you need. Many people feel better and may even have less tension in their muscles after just one session of physical activity. Daily physical activity may give you a calming effect on an ongoing basis.
The good feeling that comes with exercise is due in part to hormones that improve mood. Many people feel a "high" after physical activity. This improved mood may help you stay calm when stressful events occur. Physical activity also fights fatigue and insomnia and may help reduce anxiety and depression.
The next time stress makes you want to skip your physical activity, remember that activity may be exactly what you need to lower the stress and keep you productive. Even if you feel rushed, take some time for yourself. A short walk will help you feel better; most people can find a few minutes for a quick walk.
Clearly, a short bout of physical activity is better than eating when you feel stressed. Not only will you feel better, you will use calories rather than gaining them.