Overeating is surprisingly common
Nearly 40 percent of Americans report stress eating or eating unhealthy foods when stressed (The Impact of Stress, American Psychological Association, 2014).
Many of us have identified “comfort foods,” as foods that can help us find relief from emotional stress. These are often high fat-high sugary treats, such as ice cream and chocolate, or highly processed fatty foods (junk foods).
Although stress eating can provide temporary relief, there is a well-known downside to comfort foods: excessive calories plus unwanted weight gain. Diet plans often call for the elimination of high fat/high sugar foods – No more chocolate brownies!
However, the picture is more complex.
Women seem to handle high calorie foods differently, according to their stress levels.
Preliminary research found that among postmenopausal women, those who ate high fat/high sugar foods when chronically stressed, set the stage for serious illness, such as diabetes, compared to low stress women consuming such foods (Kirstin Aschbacher, et. al., Psychoneuroendocrinology 2014, 46: 14-22).
Among study participants, the combination of chronic stress and high fat/high sugar foods strongly increased the odds of increased belly fat, together with high blood sugar levels. This condition, known as “metabolic syndrome,” increases the odds of diabetes by 500%, while increasing the odds of cardiovascular disease by 200%.
The implication of metabolic imbalances is profound: not all calories are the same.
The body may handle high fat/high sugar foods differently, according to the stress level. With low stress, excessive fatty foods can cause fat to accumulate with unintended weight gain. No surprises there.
In contrast, with chronic stress the nervous system releases signal molecules that increase abdominal fat in response to junk foods. In turn, abdominal adiposity creates oxidative damage due to free radicals, and metabolic imbalance, such as reduced ability of insulin to lower blood sugar after a meal.
Stress management may be more important than changing a diet pattern.
Experts have warned about the dangers of chronic stress – increased odds of diabetes, cancer, heart attack, stroke, obesity and more. Beneath those health threats may be a hormonal imbalance due to chronic stress, leading to free radical damage and oxidative stress promoted by increased belly fat.
Chronic stress can change how the body manages high calorie foods. Has the time come for you to resolve persistent problems that stress you out?
Does your stress management tool kit contain a couple of quick remedies, such as slow deep breathing, together with a life changing habit, such as regular meditation or prayer?
Does dieting resolve your chronic stressors and stress response? After following a diet plan, what in your life has fundamentally changed?
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