Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Julian Omidi on Stress Eating

High stress causes people to eat nutritionally devoid foods for comfort

Without question, everyone on the east coast was affected by Hurricane Sandy. Doubtless, everyone who lost a loved one, a home or a job is under an inordinate amount of emotional stress, and when we experience stress, many of us eat.

Hurricane Sandy linked to increase of stress eating

The aftermath of the super storm has people worried. Whether it is the pressure of cleaning up the debris, the strain of wondering if a home or business can be salvaged or concern over what will happen to children and elderly relatives, the mounting stress can lead people to compensate in unhealthy ways. Many people who once embraced healthy lifestyle choices are now finding themselves reaching for processed snack cakes, cookies and crackers; foods they didn’t consider touching before. These cravings have manifested themselves from the worry and dejection over trying to overcome problems that seem insurmountable.

Stress Eating can be Addictive

The problem with these cravings is that they are self-perpetuating. Consuming fatty, sugary and salty snack foods can cause a chemical reaction in the brain resulting in a feeling of euphoric calm and quick satiation. Regular consumption of these foods can cause the body to feel sluggish and tired, making us more susceptible to stressors. Once again, we seek comfort in those same sugary and fatty foods. If these foods are consumed on a regular basis, or on occasions when we feel taxed, there is clinical evidence to suggest that it can turn into a form of addiction.

Residents rush to eat food they hoarded in preperation for Hurricane Sandy

Many residents without power began a type of food hoarding; loading up on packaged foods that would keep without refrigeration, and hurriedly eating their refrigerated foods before they spoiled. Ordering pizza, burgers, fries and other greasy takeout became the only option for people who weren’t sure when their electricity would return, and many would eat huge portion sizes that they would ordinarily save for another meal. Boredom eating is also a factor. While huddled in their homes and waiting for the storm to hit, residents sat, watched the news and ate.

Recovering from stress eating addiction

Unfortunately, because stress eating is also stress inducing, recovering from a junk food spell lasting several months is very difficult. It is important to learn stress coping methods that help in both the long and short term. Many people turn to meditation or yoga in order to relieve stress. Physical activity elevates mood and reduces feelings of anxiety. There are also certain foods that have been shown to reduce stress by lowering the stress hormone cortisol and increasing seratonin. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and oatmeal stabilize stress hormones and regulate blood sugar levels. The vitamin C in oranges also helps regulate cortisol. Other great stress reducing foods are magnesium rich spinach, salmon, black tea, almonds and milk.

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