The link has long been suspected, but now it has been proven. Stress, which comes in many forms and for many reasons, is tied to obesity. It is also, very likely, among the leading causes.
It is not a difficult concept to comprehend when one steps back and looks at the evidence. After all, many people turn to food and unhealthy eating habits when stressed or unhappy. Food provides a sense of comfort in troubling times (hence the term ‘comfort food’). Unfortunately, though it may feel good in the moment, most people find themselves further distressed as they begin to gain weight as a result. Thus, it becomes a never-ending cycle, unless the person makes a conscious decision to end it. But, why is it that the body tends to crave sweet or fatty foods when mentally upset?
The Connection Researchers have been examining this phenomenon for quite some time now and have come to a few conclusions. First, there is the matter of serotonin, which is a naturally occurring chemical within the body that makes the person feel good. It is released during times of extreme happiness and excitement. It is also released when the body ingests carbohydrates, which just happen to be some of the most highly sought after types of food in times of stress. Think about the foods that are thought of as comforting – macaroni and cheese, breads, candy bars, chocolate, and even chips – and you will find that the vast majority contain sugar, flour, potato or other forms of carbohydrate. One literally feels good when eating them.
Cortisol is another chemical that the body naturally releases, except that this one is not so beloved. This is because Cortisol actually encourages the body to store fat. The reason for this chemical being released in times of stress is not completely understood, but it does occur. When a person is upset or bothered, the body will release the chemical, which triggers hunger and the formation of new fat cells.
Beat the Stress So, how is one to overcome the effects of nature? It’s not easy. Stress is found in nearly every aspect of the American lifestyle. We work too hard and too long for far too many years. On top of this, there are other responsibilities such as bill paying, parenting, and housekeeping that pile on more of the unpleasant sensations. However, there are ways that one can deal with the stress, which are healthier and can prevent the hunger pangs.
For instance, being creative has been shown to distract the brain from worry and concern. It allows the person to slowly unwind and, at least temporarily, forget whatever the source of the stress may have been. So when you feel those moments of desperation approaching try taking a few moments out to sketch, paint, dance, sing, write, or play an instrument.
Exercise is also very effective in lessening stress levels. It might be hard to find the motivation once a person has sunk too low, so it is important to start this activity as soon as stress begins to pile up. This will, of course, also help burn excess calories that come from comfort food binges.
Avoid the Junk Food Do you feel those stress-induced cravings coming on? Then do something about it. In order to prevent fat-filled food frenzies, keep yourself full on the things that are better for you. Keep a bowl of mixed nuts on your desk, make time to have a good breakfast, and eat a lunch rich in fiber. These acts will help to ensure that you don’t get overly hungry and won’t feel the need to binge when a co-worker rattles your nerves or one of the kids pushes you last button.
It is also important to control your portion sizes. If you simply need to have that carb overload to feel better, then choose the food carefully and use a small plate to serve. Rather than choosing the standard mac and cheese, instead you might opt for whole grain pasta and a low fat cheese sauce, for instance. Then serve the meal on a small plate, so you are less likely to over indulge.