Life in the fast-paced society of the twenty-first century is decidedly stressful. One of the more unfortunate side effects of our contemporary lifestyle is the tendency, experienced by many, to consume more high-calorie foods in an effort to alleviate stress. In North America, it has, in fact, resulted in what has been termed “an obesity epidemic”.
There is a biological reason for this phenomenon. Under stress, the body produces a stress hormone, cortisol, which makes an individual crave sugary, calorie-rich foods like ice cream, cheesecake, and doughnuts.
Foods of this type raise the level of serotonin in the brain. This is a chemical which calms emotions of anxiety and nervousness. Emotionally-induced hunger is the body’s attempt to stop the production of cortisol, which would be harmful, when produced steadily over a long period of time.
The challenge, then, for contemporary persons who want to maintain an appropriate weight and stay healthy, is to find acceptable ways to manage and eliminate stress without overeating. Here are a few suggestions:
* Try to identify the most stressful situations in the day and eliminate them or modify them if possible so that they are manageable.
* Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and visualization, often.
* Caffeine causes nervousness. Cut down on coffee or better still, switch to herbal tea.
* Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins which calm you.
* Soak in a warm bath with lavender added. Its calming properties are widely recognized.
* Cut out eating on the sofa, in bed or in front of TV. Always eat at the table.
* Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for the message from the stomach to reach the brain that it has had enough.
* Clean out the junk food in the fridge and cupboards. Keep only healthy nourishment on hand. If you want to snack at home, a healthy choice of food will be readily available.
* Plan nutritious meals. If you confront a stressful situation with an empty stomach, you’re more likely to give in to a craving for an inappropriate binge.
* Start being your own best friend. Don’t bring work home. Get lots of rest. Take every holiday you’re allowed. Learn to say “No!” when you really don’t want to do something. Don’t get overly-involved in the problems of others. You are responsible for yourself first, then your immediate family.
* Work on making your life as relaxed and stress-free as possible.
* Of course, I’m not suggesting that you overlook the commandment to “Love thy neighbor”. Just do it in moderation. If you overextend yourself, and suffer burn-out, you’ll be of no help to anyone.
It is not easy to make lifestyle and dietary changes. Eating habits that have been formed over a lifetime will take time to change. Focus on one day at a time and if you slip, don’t give up.
Overweight, obesity and stress can be overcome when you persevere with diet, exercise and behavioral changes. The results will be well worth the effort. You will become healthier, more relaxed, more attractive, and more self-confident. Who wouldn’t want to achieve those goals?