Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why did I just eat that?

You aren’t human if you haven’t felt stressed out to the breaking point at least once in your life. Now it seems like more and more of us are being tested as to how much stress we can actually bear. We work harder as every department in every industry suffers from across the board lay-offs. We are told we aren’t being paid bonuses this year, our salaries aren’t being increased, and there isn’t any overtime. Our health insurance premiums are rising along with the cost of groceries. Those of us who are looking for work are finding the competition for the few jobs available to be stiff, and it feels like everyone pays less than they used to. On the way home, we get stuck in traffic as lanes are closed for construction projects as part of the national effort to get America back to work. Living paycheck to paycheck means that Thursday night dinner might consist of leftover chicken and pot roast with a side of spaghetti.

So what do we do?

For some of us the answer is we eat.

Why? Why do we turn to food when we are stressed? It’s not like a double cheeseburger is going to help us find the money to make our car payment this month. Double fudge chocolate cake won’t make your boss stop handing you special projects on top of your already full plate of work. So why do we do it?

I think understanding this phenomenon is key to getting our eating habits under control.

Constant stress causes our bodies to produce high amounts of hormones like cortisol. Cortisol and insulin combine to create cravings for so-called “comfort foods” that tend to be high in fat and sugar. We also tend to sleep poorly when we are worried and stressed out. When we are tired we often turn to sugar and caffeine to try to perk ourselves up increasing blood sugar and insulin levels. Studies have shown that being sleep deprived also lower the amount of hormones that signal satiety and increase the hormones that trigger hunger.

So first off you need to realize that it’s not your imagination that you are hungry when you are stressed out. You ARE hungrier. It’s not a character flaw that we want to eat when things get tough.

I think the key to our long term success is going to be, especially if we are emotional eaters, to control our stress levels as much as we can.

I’ve picked up a couple of tips recently that have helped me and I thought I would share. The one that works the best for me is probably the simplest of them all.


Take a deep breath through your nose. Hold it for a second and then exhale through your mouth. Close your eyes when you do this. Within seconds your blood pressure drops and you feel calmer. Do this whenever you start to feel overwhelmed. I learned this last year during a customer service training at work and, amazingly enough, it really does help.

Another good tip I received is to improve my time management skills. I’m still working on this myself, but the little changes I’ve made so far have helped tremendously. I used to laugh at the motto “work smarter, not harder” but it really does work. Being able to prioritize my tasks has really made me feel less frazzled at the end of the day. There are only so many hours in the day, so I focus on what’s really important and don’t sweat the small stuff. It gets me out of the office 15 minutes earlier on average. At home that means if the housework only gets done once a week and the bed stays un-made in the morning, then so be it.

That brings me to another point. We don’t have to be perfect. I struggle with this so much. I would say that 90% of my stress is self inflicted in my attempts to please everyone. I try so hard to be the perfect wife, mother, daughter, sister, and employee. I just can’t do it. Nobody’s perfect this side of heaven. Instead, I am trying to make a concerted effort to just be “good enough.” I’m going to try to cut myself the same slack I cut everyone else I love in my life.

So the next time I find myself pulling my hair out and freaking out from the pressures of every day, I plan to stop a minute and give myself a little mini break. I'm going to close my eyes, take a deep breath, picture myself in a tropical paradise and refocus. Then do the things that are most important, when they are done I can take care of some of the less urgent stuff, and if I can't get to it all- that's okay.

It sounds like a much better plan than skipping lunch to get it all done only to find myself digging in the back of the cupboard for something chocolate at 10 pm.

How about you? What strategies do you have when life is getting the better of you? How do you avoid stress related binges?

No comments:

Post a Comment