Stress-eating: why and what can be done?
Research has linked stress to weight gain and overeating junk foods such as chocolate bars, crisps and ice cream. When in distress or in emotional discomfort these “comfort foods” filled with sugar, fats and empty calories appear to have a feedback effect that lowers stress, be it only in the short term. As these foods seem to counteract stress, this may contribute to people craving these foods.
Are some of us more at risk of stress-eating than others?
Some research suggests a gender difference in stress-coping behaviour, with women being more likely to turn to food while men turn to alcohol. A Finnish study that included over 5,000 men and women showed that obesity was associated with stress-related eating in women, but not in men. British researchers in a study showed that people who responded to stress with high-cortisol levels in an experimental setting were more likely to snack in response to daily hassles in their regular lives than low-cortisol responders.
So what can we do?
Meditation – studies have shown that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease. Meditation may also help people become more mindful about what they eat. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to help resist the impulse to grab the empty calories of “comfort food”.
Exercise – our cortisol levels can vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, but overall exercise can blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
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