The relationship between stress and food |

The relationship between stress and food

Debbie Coblentz
Registered Dietitian
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It is true that tips and tricks for eating smart are sometimes less effective until underlying issues are addressed. In other words, we may make eating resolutions and then fail at them, thinking that it was a lack of will power and not recognizing larger forces that were at work. Understanding these larger forces can make all the difference.

Stress, sometimes defined as our reaction to life, is one of the larger forces that when understood, can help demystify our experience with food.

Powerful chemicals are released in response to stress. They are vital in helping us handle the stress. For short bursts of time, this response is wonderful and life-saving. When the stress response is chronic, however, it leads to disease, both physical and mental.

Partly, disease comes directly because of the stress response. In addition, we develop coping mechanisms to deal with chronic stress that are also often culprits in the disease process. Things like overworking, chemical addictions, and yes, here it comes, overeating. Chronic stress can overpower even the best of intentions, and ironically, these negative coping methods increase our stress.

Sometimes we can change our lives so that stress is removed. This is not always possible or desirable. Accomplishment, challenge, and courage in the face of complexity bring a satisfaction to life that comes no other way.

What if we could learn to manage stress by changing how we react to it? This is possible by becoming aware of what is happening inside us. Once we can do that, we are better prepared to address the stress in healthy ways, and surprisingly, better able to feed ourselves in healthy ways. As Marc Brackett at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “If you can name it, you can tame it.”

There are powerful tools available for this that have been around thousands of years. These stress management techniques are a form of physical and mental training that tend to look like you are doing nothing at all. They are therefore often dismissed in our culture as unimportant and especially seem to be unrelated to overeating.

Quite the opposite is true. When done routinely, relaxation, meditation, deep breathing, stretching, and talking with friends authentically about what you are dealing with can make all the difference in your goals for smart eating.

Be on the lookout for opportunities to learn and practice these simple skills. For example, hatha yoga is great for deep breathing, stretching, and relaxing your mind as well as your body. There are simple poses that can even be done seated in a chair, taking just a few minutes. Meditation is simply something done daily to lift the mind to higher thoughts and to help you become more aware of thoughts that may be feeding unhealthy chronic stress. And who would have thought that more regularly connecting with friends could be improving our diet? We thought it was just plain fun!

Debbie Coblentz is a registered dietitian living in Churchill County. Your comments in response to this article are welcome at