Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stress and Eating

Here is the latest email from Dr. Jacobs.

As wonderful a time as Christmas is, it can often be stressful. Here is an article about dealing with the stress and eating:

Food, Stress, and Strategies

“I eat when I’m bored.”

“I eat when I’m tired.”

“I eat when I’m lonely.”

“I eat when I’m stressed.”

Sound familiar? These are all reasons for eating which have nothing to do with actual hunger. It can even be viewed as part of a normal eating pattern as long as it only happens occasionally. It would be a problem if we ate for reasons other than hunger and nourishment more often than not. That’s when weight gain and other health issues arise. With these challenges in mind, we can arm ourselves with knowledge.

It’s important to learn what triggers our eating patterns. The next step is to learn how-to combat the temptation to eat when we are simply over stressed.

Stress can come from many places such as relationship strain, financial challenge, job demands, moving, and even happy stress—like what you might experience while planning a wedding. Your body does not discriminate against different types of stress and it reacts by pumping out hormones. Cortisol is one of those hormones which, over time, will increase your appetite and lead you to overeat.

The experts from the University of California, San Francisco Department of Psychiatry and Center on Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment tell us that cortisol and insulin shift our preferences toward comfort foods. Therefore, we crave high-fat, high-sugar, or high-salt foods. It’s one of the many reasons that we put on weight during the holidays which can be full of stressful triggers.

Lack of sleep is a trigger. Consistently missing the essential eight hours of rest and repair encourages certain metabolic changes that may lead to weight gain. A lack of sleep affects two important hormones that control appetite and satiety—leptin and ghrelin.

According to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, people who slept only four hours a night had an 18 percent decrease in leptin (a hormone that signals the brain that the body has had enough to eat) and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger), compared with those who got more rest. Overall, study participants reported a 24 percent boost in appetite. The authors of the study also noted that too little sleep could eventually affect glucose (carbohydrate) metabolism which sets the stage for type 2 diabetes.

Here are a few more suggestions to help manage food and mood, according to Dr. Richard Wurtman from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:
• Boost your alertness with lean protein. Protein foods are broken down into their amino acid building blocks during digestion. One amino acid, called tyrosine, will increase the production of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine. These neurotransmitters are known for their ability to increase levels of alertness and energy. Consider lean proteins like fish, chicken, turkey, lean red meat, and some vegetarian combinations like legumes with brown rice.

• Choose whole grain carbohydrates but remember to watch your portion size. Eating carbohydrates will trigger the release of insulin into the blood stream. Ultimately, the neurotransmitter serotonin will be triggered and serotonin has the effect of reducing pain, decreasing appetite, and producing a sense of calm. Research has shown that dieters tend to become depressed about two weeks into a diet, about the time their serotonin levels have dropped due to decreased carbohydrate intake.

• Adequate Folic acid can help counter mood. Folic acid deficiencies have been linked to depression in clinical studies. Folic acid deficiency causes serotonin levels in the brain to decrease. In these studies, as little as 200 micrograms was enough to help with depression. You can get that amount from a cup of cooked spinach or a glass of orange juice.

• Lack of selenium can cause bad moods. To help normalize mood, get adequate selenium by adding foods like Brazil nuts, tuna sandwiches, sunflower seeds or whole grain cereals to your weekly routine.

Now, let’s assume there will be “moments of humanity” which will consist of mistakes or lapses. On occasion we succumb to the stress and overeat. Guilt is rarely a positive motivator so consider these hints to get over the aftermath:
• Start with forgiveness – one day does not undo a healthy diet so don’t let one slip become three days or three weeks of excess.

• Start again – they say that the definition of success is falling two times and rising three so begin the next day with some exercise and a healthy breakfast. Try a great low fat breakfast burrito made with egg whites and fresh vegetables sautéed in a small amount of olive oil and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla.

• Learn from the misstep – think about what triggered your food frenzy so you can come up with a better strategy for next time.
Remember, normal eating does include the occasional overindulgence—we all do it, but constant stress eating will result in declining health and expanding waistlines. You are unique and your coping strategies may need to be unique as well.

By Meridan Zerner, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D. at Cooper Clinic is a registered and licensed dietitian with a masters degree in nutritional science. She is a certified sports specialist and believes in a balanced, science-based approach to health and wellness.

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