Stress and emotional eating

What you need to know

Stress is something we all talk about. It is part of our hectic modern lifestyle, and to paraphrase that big hit song of the ‘90s, it seems like stress is all around.

But what exactly is stress and what part does it play in the emotional eating that is at the root of so many people’s weight problems?

What is stress?

Experts agree that stress is our body’s way of coping with external threats and demands, which it does by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to give us more energy and strength to deal with looming peril - very useful in the days when our ancestors faced wild animals and other physical dangers.

Of course things are a bit different in our own era, when the most ferocious threat to most of us is more likely to be a blue-capped parking warden than a sabre-toothed tiger. Yet, while physical threats have thankfully receded, we still experience stress because our bodies continue to react to outside threats and demands. It is just that stress is now much more likely to be psychological, rather than physical.

Our bodies respond to psychological stress in the same way as physical stress by generating more energy, but since we no longer use our muscles in the same way, the stress (and the energy it creates ) affects us differently.

Stress and emotional eating

According to Robin Smith from Motivation Weight Management in Mayo, one of the most common ways we cope with stress is to eat. “While intense psychological stress [such as that caused by the death of a loved one] decreases appetite, less severe stress can induce eating. That’s because many of us learn to associate eating with pleasure, with the result that we eat in response to stress, whether that be to celebrate, compensate, reward, or comfort ourselves.”

The problem with this is that when we fall into a persistent and regular pattern of emotional eating as a way of coping with the stresses and strains of daily life, we start to put on weight, especially as comfort foods generally tend to be high in fat, sugar and calories.

So how can we set about mastering our stress in ways that do not involve eating?

Making excuses

Stop making excuses. Do any of these sound familiar?

It’s not for me - I am not the emotional type.

I don’t want to start messing with my emotions.

I don’t have time for this.

It’s hopeless - there’s nothing I can do about it.

Why are bad things always happening to me - I am very unlucky.

I find it very hard to relax

According to Robin Smith, if you relate to any of these statements, then you are letting your stress get the better of you, but he advises that there is hope. “The good news is that by admitting stress is causing you to overeat, you can start taking back control of your own happiness.”

Make a decision, he advises. “Ask yourself if you really want to lead a happier life by getting rid of all the fears, anxieties, and worries that are causing you so much stress. By making a definite and positive decision to do so, you will be amazed to discover how quickly you will subconsciously find ways to overcome stress.”

Motivation Weight Management offers private, one-on-one consultations, and tailors programmes to the individual needs of their clients. For a no obligation assessment consultation in Westport, Castlebar, Sligo, or Letterkenny, call 1890 98 98 95, or for more information visit www.motivation.ie

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