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Five Eating Patterns That Worsen Stress

OAKLAND, Calif., July 21 /PRNewswire/ -- Stress is a natural part of life. Yet it seems that between the economic recession, multiple health crises, and other seemingly endless things, individuals are experiencing heightened anxiety. People often deal with stress by trying to find methods that will lessen their intense emotions. However, a number of eating patterns that people develop to cope during this time actually worsen the stress.

Here are some common eating patterns that you may fall into when under stress:

1. Starting a new diet.

While it may seem like a good idea to start a new diet when you're going through a stressful time, any type of diet is stressful. This is true whether you're resolving to fast during the day, eat only one meal a day, or throw out all the junk food and start a whole new healthy eating plan.

When you're under stress, the best approach is to make tiny changes. For example, decrease the number of sodas you drink a day from ten to eight. Or better yet, just resolve to eat an extra fruit or vegetable a day. Wait to embark on larger changes until you are less stressed emotionally so as to avoid stressing yourself physically.

2. Eating more junk food than usual.

It's not uncommon to feel hungrier under stress. The extra cortisol in your bloodstream from the stress reaction can increase food cravings, especially cravings for sweets and high-fat foods. Eating sweets can increase serotonin in our brains, which makes us feel good--but so can taking a walk. Most importantly, if you do yield to your craving, eat mindfully, with your attention focused on how the food tastes and on how it feels in your mouth and your body. Mindless eating tends to lead to overeating or bingeing; by staying focused on what you're eating, you're less likely to let emotions or stress control how much and what you eat.

3. Losing your appetite, only to have it come back later with a vengeance.

Although you may not feel hungry when dealing with a big stressor like the breakup of a relationship, don't stop eating, as this can increase your bingeing later on. Instead, eat small meals or snacks throughout the day to avoid rebound hunger.

4. Eating because your appetite is out of control.

If you feel like overeating, first check your level of hunger. Ask yourself what you're really hungry for (emotionally). What (emotions) are you trying to stuff down with your food? See if you can satisfy the craving or emotional need in another way. For example, drink a glass of water, call a friend, or take a walk. Stay mindful of what your body needs as opposed to what you need emotionally and respond accordingly.

5. Eating because you feel tired.

When you're stressed to the max, you may feel tired and have low energy. Don't mistake this for true physical hunger. Eating won't raise your energy in this instance; in fact, eating large amounts of food can actually further stress your body because it diverts scarce energy resources to digestion. Test whether or not you're physically hungry by eating a small snack and paying attention to your body's cues. If you find that you're just tired, then take a nap or engage in some other restful activity.

Here are some ways you can deal with it:

  • Determine which patterns you identify with when you are under stress.
  • List three telltale signs that will help you identify the patterns.

(Example: I know I'm stress-eating when I stop at a fast food restaurant on the way home and eat in my car. Or: I know I'm going to binge when I get home from work when I haven't eaten all day.)

  • Decide on actions you can take when these signs indicate that you are stress-eating.

(Example: If I find myself craving fast food, I'll make dinner plans with a friend and talk about my stressful day. Or: When I realize I've skipped breakfast, I'll make sure to eat a healthy lunch and a mid-morning protein snack to avoid bingeing later in the evening.)

  • Take one of the actions.

Adapted from The Binge Eating & Compulsive Overeating Workbook: An Integrated Approach to Overcoming Disordered Eating (New Harbinger Publications, July 2009) by Carolyn Coker Ross, MD, MPH. Dr. Ross is a physician, author, and nationally recognized speaker. She currently is a consultant for the dual diagnosis eating disorders program at The Ranch, an addiction treatment center near Nashville, TN and is in private practice in Denver, CO.

SOURCE The Binge Eating & Compulsive Overeating Workbook
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