The most recent addition to our feeding behaviors is stress eating and it turns out, in fact, that too much stress may actually put weight on you. So says Nicholas Bakalar in “Long-term stress shows effects on waistlines” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 3/14/17, E10).
You know how it goes: You’re facing an office deadline, need to chauffeur the kids around all day, have back-to-back clients, or it’s down to the wire at tax time, and you find yourself craving sweets or treats. According to results published in Obesity, 2,527 men and women over the age of 50 were tested in a study “quantifying stress by measuring levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in two-centimeter hair clippings, or about two months’ growth…they found that the higher the level of cortisol, the greater the body weight, BMI and waist circumference. Higher cortisol levels were also associated with persistence of obesity over time.”
Researchers note that “they were unable to determine whether chronically high cortisol levels are a cause or a consequence of obesity.” An example of consequence is that, in itself, “feeling fat could raise your stress level,” which is why it’s so crucial for you to not stress over your weight. Whichever the case—causal or consequential—we know that too much stress is not good for our bodies for numerous reasons.
There are two ways to handle stress: reduce the amount of it in your life and/or improve your ability to cope with it. In fact, the best approach is to do both. Observe and note what stresses you out and problem-solve ways to lessen what causes it. As well, find better ways to zone out, relax, and reduce the tension in your mind and body. Toggle back and forth between changing yourself and your situation.
Here are some questions to answer: What makes you resist sitting down and reflecting on the amount of stress in your life? What are three ways to reduce stress on a daily or weekly basis? What do you perceive as the positives of your stressful life that make you cling to it (yeah, they’re there if you dig deeply)? Are you trying to please others or are you driven by an inner pressure to succeed or be perfect? Are you addicted to busyness so totally that life feels weird and empty when you do less or less well?
Why not protect yourself against stress by learning to cope with it better without food? Do something for yourself and take a yoga, meditation, or mindfulness class. Slow down your heart rate by reading a book, taking a nap, or doing something mindless. When you’re resting, quiet your mind and forget about what you need to do. Your to do list will still be there when you’re done with your physical or mental break.