The 21st century has been an era of technological advancements and change; we in the new generation have never had the access we do now to technology and information. These new advancements come with a hidden price tagif you would – constant stressors.
Chronic Stress – Where does it come from?
If I may go on a brief tangent and provide a quick history lesson; back when cavemen ruled the world the needs of humans were primal: food, shelter, water, and love (reproduction). When faced with a threat, say a saber tooth tiger, the body would produce a hormone called cortisol which gives us the “fight or flight” response I am sure you have heard of. At the time, one would face this threat, respond, and have ample time to recover. But in our day and age research suggests that we are constantly being faced with the same hormonal threat in our DAILY lives (chronic stress) which causes a host of problems; the one I will focus on will be stress eating which is an epidemic on its own.
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I am sure you, like me, have heard the “joke” of male/females eating a gallon of chocolate ice cream while watching chick flicks after a break up. But it may surprise you that there is actual scientific evidence to why the body craves certain sugars/foods when faced with particular dramatic events in one’s life!
So what is the problem?
The real problem is that although the body is engineered to turn off cortisol production after a “threat” has been dealt with, it is unable to due to chronic stress. We have become so busy in our everyday lives we forget to exercise, eat right and prioritize.
Since these cortisol signals stay hyper active, your body activates nodes which seek out comfort foods such as sweets and fatty foods. A long scientific story short, those quick acting sugars (calories, energy) are transported directly to the stomach region, behind the liver and other organs so that it will be readily available. You might have heard about “stress, the killer fat” because it is stored in a very dangerous place and may not be nearly as visible as, say, some extra large love handles.
Steps to Defeating Stress/Stress Eating
Luckily there are several ways to combat chronic stress (which leads to the comfort foods aka stress eating). The first step I would recommend would be to identify what your major stressors are; write them down and arrange them in priorities, figure out which ones require immediate ramifications and which ones you can slowly change. Once you figure out what you need to tackle I suggest:
- Time management, schedule time for YOU to do something you enjoy, or something the whole family can participate in
- Exercise, exercise, exercise. This doesn’t have to be spending two hours in the gym every day but something as simple as walking/jogging/running, yoga, Zumba, meditation can have such an empowerment in one’s life.
- Hot baths
- Healthier diet
How do you know if you are Stress Eating?
The easiest and quickest way to know if one is simply eating to try and dull their emotions and or stress is to simply take a handful of seconds and ask yourself, Am I really hungry? Michelle May says “When a craving doesn’t come from hunger, food will never satisfy it.”
Tips to avoid reaching for the chocolate cake are to plan your meals to the best of your ability, and keep healthier snacks with you. For instance, I tend to keep a protein shake or two in my car at all times, I also keep almonds, other assorted nuts and sometimes a health bar on my person if I am going to be working for an extended time so that I can avoid snacking at work.
Conquering Stress Eating
Taking control of stress eating will not be achieved overnight, but taking the time to identify when you are is the first step in improving your quality of life. As you continue to better yourself it will become second nature and you will crave exercise, friendships and fun instead of comfort foods.