How Does Stress Eating Effect Your Diet?
Chronic stress and the stress eating that can accompany is a problem.
We eat dessert dishes, fried foods, and salty snacks because they taste good, but recent studies have shown that there may be more at work when we are enjoying our delicious treats. As it turns out, it can be the body’s attempt to put a brake on the runaway machinery of chronic stress, known as stress eating.
Like many of our carnal urges, stress eating is a result of our body trying to cope with external factors by using its natural hormones to send messages to your brain to tell it to do something. For instance, if you have a near accident your brain instantly tells the body to start producing the cortisol. It in turn mobilizes your body’s life-saving responses – your heart races, you become highly alert, blood vessels constrict and divert the flow of blood to key bodily functions, and your metabolism shifts readying you for action.
This response to a sudden stress is natural and evolutionarily advantageous. The problem, as seen with stress eating, occurs when the body faces chronic stress. As you continually expose your body to stress, it ramps up the production of cortisol. This gives rise to anxiety, hyperalertness, depression, and stress eating.
The increased levels of cortisol released under chronic stress also tell the body to store excess calories to your abdomen as fat. These fat deposits then send out a metabolic signal that tells the brain to shut off the stress response. So when you are stress eating, the cream puffs are trying to tell the body to dampen the output of the stress system. As if the body is telling the brain: “You’re refueled with high energy food, you can relax.”
Unfortunately, those calorie-rich foods we love when we are stress eating may help to ameliorate chronic stress but it’s bad for your long term health. Part of the reason fat from stress eating collects around the abdomen is because the liver can more easily metabolize it. However, abdominal obesity puts you at risk for a heart attack and even diabetes.
Clearly, chronic stress and the stress eating that can accompany is a problem, but there is a way out. Exercise, yoga, meditation, hot baths, and even sex all stimulate the same sectors in the brain that make us seek comfort food. It’s natural for you to crave rich foods when stress is unrelenting; it’s your brain and body cooperating to respond to environmental pressures. You can replace your inner urge to pack on the pounds by eating your favorite fatty foods by doing physical and mental activities that reduce stress and are healthy for the body.
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