Dear Stress Eater:
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.
“I’m a stress eater” is a reaction to stress based on a belief; where “How do I manage my weight when my stress level is a 10”, is reflective of the physiological effects of stress on the body.
What Is Stress
The dictionary definition of stress is, “A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” This definition is interesting in that the distinction of stress is not inherently “good” or “bad.” The body recognizes a demanding circumstance and reacts, whether the stressor is losing weight or gaining weight. Regardless 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; and structurally, in our bones and muscles.
The Stress Reaction
From a purely physiological standpoint, stress causes an increase in cortisol production, which is associated with weight gain, an inability to lose weight and premature aging. Increases are also noted 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.
Stress Eater Is A Belief
This is an interesting point, since 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 the go-to response. Since habits are at the mercy of our thoughts, changing a habit requires re-wiring the brain to think a different thought and not rely on the old response.
New Way To Think
Therefore, “I’m a stress eater. My stress level is a 10. I must eat” might be replaced with “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.
Imagine if you told yourself you were a “stress walker,” I wonder what would happen then….
Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By: Elizabeth Viszt