Stress eating may always have been your biggest weight gain problem. But now, with so many new stressors with the virus, job insecurity, and isolation at home with children or other family members, eating may be the only thing you think you can do for comfort. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can change the messages that you send yourself and develop strategies for managing stress with a new kind of self care.

Stress eating does not have to be a fact of life

Have you always felt that stress eating is just a fact of life? Here’s some good news. Saying “I’m a stress eater” is a reaction to stress based on habits that you may have developed as a child, or be part of your family culture.  You can change this by asking “How do I manage my weight when my stress level is a 10?”  Getting advice on stress is crucial to getting better.

Did you know that Covid 19 stress impacts your body in surprising ways

Stress is the single biggest cause of all disease and lifestyle challenges, including chronic dieting, obesity, diabetes and cravings … it’s not surprising that there is a relationship between the ways we physically and mentally experience stress.  The question is easier to understand if we break it down into smaller chunks to examine.

What Is Stress

The dictionary defines stress as “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” This definition is interesting. It doesn’t say stress is either “good” or “bad.”  The body recognizes a demanding circumstance and reacts. For some folks, the stress causes weight loss. Others gain weight.  Regardless of the circumstances or the distinction, stress can be experienced:

  • Chemically, in the processes of the body
  • Emotionally, in our thoughts, feelings and beliefs
  • Spiritually, in our sense of connection
  • Structurally, in our bones and muscles

The stress eating reaction

From a physiological standpoint, stress causes an increase in cortisol production. This is which is associated with:

  • Weight gain
  • An inability to lose weight
  • Premature aging
  • Increases in LDL levels of blood cholesterol, salt retention, insulin resistance, and general inflammation

In fact, the moment stress is activated, the digestive system shuts down. Blood is rerouted to the extremities, and the body prepares for fight or flight.

When stress is ON; digestion is OFF.

Is being a stress eater a belief

This is an interesting point. The brain cannot differentiate between real and imagined stress. Therefore, emotional eating as a go-to response to stress, produces the same physiological reaction by the body as being chased by a bear. As long as we are experiencing stress, or believe that we are, digestion is turned OFF. If we couple this with the habit of telling ourselves that the necessary response to stress is to eat (“stress eater”), then weight gain is an inevitable result.

Coping with the stress of now needs habit change

Instead, if we consider that reducing and coping with stress requires a habit change, we can create another possibility. This is great news! Habits are merely rituals or thoughts that have been repeated over time where the thinker believes them to be true. Habits don’t require us to remember to do something. They are just a go-to response. Since habits are at the mercy of our thoughts, changing a habit requires re-wiring the brain. First, we must learn to think a different thought and not rely on the old response.

New way to think

Instead of this response: “I’m a stress eater. My stress level is a 10. I must eat.” We can try: “I’m feeling stressed. I must go for a walk. Walking helps reduce my stress.” Or jogging, or calling a friend, or meditating, or any number of other activities that might resonate with you. 

 


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Elizabeth Viszt
Elizabeth is a certified Educational Specialist and Success Coach. She has a BA, MS in biology with a concentration in ethology (animal behavior), is an EAGALA Equine Specialist in equine assisted learning and personal development, and has extensive personal leadership skills. She spent much of her career in education at the high school, college and correctional facility levels teaching biology & chemistry and acting in the capacity of a success coach. Elizabeth presents workshops and seminars which address communication issues as they manifest in personal relationships. She uses writing as both a creative and cathartic outlet, especially after losing both of her parents to cancer in 2015. She lives in upstate NY, on a farm that bears the name of her motto: Be Unreasonable! She's invested in empowering others in moving their pieces forward in the world.

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