Nutritionist Christelle Bedrossian talked about emotional eating, the link between emotions and obesity. In other words how our mood affects our diet.
- Can stress or anxiety lead to obesity?
For most of us, stress and food go hand-in-hand. Food can give us the feelings of control and satisfaction that we need in stressful situations. It’s no surprise that when our stress levels go up our resistance to “comfort foods” goes down. Unfortunately, it is a vicious cycle, when people are stressed they may eat inappropriately, this causes them to gain weight and increases stress levels.
- How does stress lead to weight gain and what is the mechanism?
Stress has been linked to biochemical changes that can trigger cravings and lead to obesity. Now scientific research has found evidence to support this connection. Specific biochemical reactions appear to help explain this link. When you’re really stressed, you tend to crave comfort foods that are high in fat or sugar: specific hormones may play a role in this process.
• Serotonin: During stressful times, we reach for fattening and sugary comfort foods as an attempt to self-medicate. When we eat sweet and high-fat foods, including chocolate, serotonin is released, making us feel happier. Serotonin is the body’s feel-good chemical, it regulates your mood. People under stress do not make smart food choices, they go for carbs high in fat, like muffins, pastries, doughnuts, and cookies and not for whole-wheat pasta.
• Cortisol: Chronic stress can cause the body to release excess cortisol, a hormone critical in managing fat storage and energy use in the human body. Cortisol is known to increase appetite and may encourage cravings for sugary or fatty foods. • Neuropeptide Y: Our bodies may process food differently when we’re under stress. A molecule called neuropeptide Y is released from nerve cells during stress and encourages fat accumulation. A diet high in fat and sugar appears to further promote the release of neuropeptide Y and lead to weight gain much more than when having a normal diet under stress.
- How can we break the cycle?
• Hunger or emotion: In fact it is not under stress only, when we are bored, anxious or depressed we tend to eat because of our emotions. Before you eat anything ask yourself: Is it physical hunger or emotional hunger? It’s important to eat when hungry, to stop when you had enough, and to deal with the emotional conflicts you express by eating. If you aren’t really hungry, you are eating in response to emotions or stress.
Deal with your emotions: Identify which emotions are making you crave then find an approach to solve the main problem.
Stress: Find ways to manage your stress, try yoga or meditation. Exercise regularly. Spend time with friends. Seek counseling. Reduce the number of stressors in your life. Stress will always be a part of life, but it doesn’t have to lead to weight gain.
Boredom: go for a walk, call a friend… If you can take your mind off food for a short time, the craving may pass.
In general: Exercise also releases endorphins, which counteracts stress, anxiety and depression.
• Moderation: Our favorite foods actually can reduce our stress levels. But moderation is the key. Incorporate small portions of chocolate in your usual diet, rather than restrict yourself. The attempt to restrain ourselves before we are satisfied increases the desire for chocolate. Decrease the quantity gradually to wean yourself off the craving
• Think about what you’re eating: When people are really stressed, they think that paying attention to their diet will cause more stress, actually, it’s just the opposite. Don’t forget that food is fuel for your body and your brain. When you eat properly, you’re fueling your body to fight stress.
• Prevention: When you allow yourself to become too hungry, you get a drop in your blood sugar and it becomes very hard to think rationally. When your blood sugar levels are stable, cravings are less likely to occur so do not skip meals.
• Keep portion size in mind: When people are stressed out, there’s a tendency not to think about what they’re eating and how much they’re eating. Smaller portions can help keep your total calorie intake under control.
• Plan ahead: Make sure you always have healthy snacks nearby, so you can replace chocolate with fruit a few times a day. Eat healthy snacks that combine protein and carbohydrates. The body digests them more slowly, allowing you to feel fuller longer: whole-grain crackers with cheese or a piece of whole-grain bread. Avoid snacks high in fat and sugar, they will make you crave more.
- Do men and women report similar problems with emotional eating?
Males and females reported similar problems with emotional eating. However, men were more likely to report high protein foods such as meat as “comfort foods,” while women were more likely to turn to high carbohydrate foods such as sweets. Women frequently crave chocolates, the craving occurs on a monthly cycle, which suggests a hormonal basis. Chocoholics insist that it is habit-forming, that it produces an instant feeling of well-being and even that abstinence leads to withdrawal symptoms.
- Conclusion: Craving is more likely a cultural phenomenon than a physical one. The inability to control eating and dealing with emotions with food may be a result of inborn traits and today’s environment. “Humans used to have to search for food, now food searches us out.” We are overwhelmed with advertising, large-scale grocery displays, plenty of high-calorie foods, and an obsession with thinness. The stress of modern living often makes us turn to food for comfort, then return to a restrictive diet.
Helwi El Hayet
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