When times are tough, it’s easy find comfort in a donut, a bag of chips, or even chocolate. Many have come to believe stress eating is a fact of life. Here’s some good news. Saying “I’m a stress eater” is a reaction to stress based on a belief. You can change this by asking “How do I manage my weight when my stress level is a 10?” Considering that 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 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.
Being A Stress Eater Is A Belief?!?
This is an interesting point. The brain cannot differentiate between real and imagined stress. Therefore, 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 Stress 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.