RobardUser Robard Corporation | Eating Habits

Stress and Weight Gain



We all experience stress in our lives. But, did you know that stress could be a contributor to weight gain and preventing you from losing weight? Stress causes our bodies to produce increased amounts of stress hormones. These hormones cause a rush of adrenaline that is sometimes referred to as the “Fight or Flight Response.” When the brain receives a signal that the body is under stress, it releases the stress hormones to help the body endure whatever is upon it. It makes one ready for action and endurance. The human body is made to survive.

However, after the adrenaline rush is over, the body continues to make cortisol. This is the hormone that triggers hunger or the “replenish mode.” For our ancestors, this was necessary. They may have gone long periods of time without eating and endured a harsh physical environment without knowing when they would eat again. Our ancestors needed the cortisol due to high levels of physical stress and activity. Often, they burned double the calories they consumed just looking for their food.

We can hardly say that now. However, despite the decline in physical activity, we are under as much stress today as our ancestors. Much of our stress comes in the form of mental and emotional. Even physical stress, such as chronic illness, brings with it an emotional toll.

Cortisol and the “replenish mode” are designed to allow for survival. Cortisol slows our metabolism to conserve energy and resources. This means we hang on to fat stores. This may not have been a problem for our great-great-great grandparents who hunted and gathered their food supply, however, driving to the nearest drive-through or ordering take-out is not such strenuous work. Add a slow metabolism from cortisol and you get added weight gain.

So, how can you start now to decrease your stress and prevent weight gain? Here are some tips:

1. Take your vitamins. Your B-vitamins and magnesium to be exact. The B-vitamins provide energy and nervous system function and magnesium is known to reduce anxiety. Most of us are not getting enough of these vitamins in our diets.
2. Get protein for breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day only if it is protein packed. Experts recommend 35 grams or more to get your metabolism cranked, increase your energy level, and keep you satiated longer.
3. Exercise more. Not only are you burning calories and increasing your metabolism, you are reducing your stress level. When you are on the elliptical, bike, treadmill, or in a yoga pose, you can sweat away the day’s concerns and burn off that adrenaline.
4. Get a good night’s sleep. At least 7-9 hours per night to combat cravings. Lack of sleep makes you hungry.
5. No crash diets or starving. When you drastically restrict a food group or reduce your calorie intake, you slow your metabolism further. This will not help when under stress. Instead, find a well-balanced, high protein, low carb diet plan and drink plenty of water. There are plenty of food options for quick, on-the-go nutrition and protein.
6. Eat mindfully. By eating slowly, you give your body time to realize you are full. Mindful eating makes us more aware of emotional eating and combats the cortisol levels our bodies are producing from stress.
7. Seek help. Often stress in life is more than we can handle alone. Seek out a therapist, a health care professional, a support group, or health coach. Do not be ashamed to ask assistance during a difficult time.




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Is Food Your Friend or Enemy?




Frequently, patients tell me they want to “change their relationship with food.”  This lofty-sounding desire is often expressed after significant weight loss following a diet, after a life-changing event or during recovery from disordered eating. Some refer to it as making “peace” with food, as if they have been at war with it all their lives. And perhaps they have.

How we change that (food) relationship — or not — greatly depends upon how we view food. Merriam-Webster.com (medically) defines food as: “Material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Food is, first and foremost, the important fuel that keeps the body alive. So, it makes sense that quality “fuel” put into the body would produce a healthier-running organism.

But beyond being a source of macro and micro-nutrients, food also provides pleasure. Nature could have permanently provided us earthly inhabitants with some bland-tasting, gray-colored sustenance to meet our nutritional requirements for survival. Instead, nutrition is packaged in a plethora of delightful colors, smells, tastes and textures. Along with man-made food preparation methods, we now have a phenomenal multiplicity of choices. “Extreme variety” —with food available almost as soon as we can imagine it — is both a blessing and a curse. And one could argue that the availability of today’s super palatable convenience foods doesn’t help. So, we need to know how to reasonably combine nutrition and pleasure, calories and nutrient density. We need balance.

Next, if we want to truly improve our food relationship, we have to slow down, learn to savor and listen to our bodies. When we dismiss our bodies’ hunger signals (usually pretty discernable) and satiety signals (sometimes more like a whisper), our food behavior can move us quickly from starved to stuffed — neither of which is a positive or pleasurable experience. And while we also need to learn that mild hunger is not something to be feared (most of us are blessed enough not to experience food insecurity) our concern with seeking food and thoughts about food also should not interfere with daily life.

Lastly, food really needs to be food. It can’t substitute for or squelch our emotional expression on a regular basis. If our “default” is to eat when an emotion arises, we are no longer nourishing ourselves as intended. Food is not a persona — not our “friend” or our “enemy.” To put food back in its place, people often initially need some structure. Planning meals and snacks at regular intervals, eating a wide variety of plant foods, lean proteins, whole grains, healthful fats, drinking enough water and tracking intake are some sensible ways to start. And because food attitudes, just like emotions, can be contagious, having a good “food mentor” is not a bad idea.

So improving one’s food relationship — just like a relationship between people — involves the desire/willingness to change, which takes times and effort. There is no room for self-blame or blaming others for our personal food history because, as adults, we are each responsible for the food we put in our mouths. There is only room for learning and growing, one day at a time — one meal at a time. Sometimes we can do this on our own and sometimes, as with relationships, we need outside help. And it takes patience. But the rewards of improving one’s food relationship are very rich, and go beyond weight management to include health, a sense of gratitude, confidence, and a growing appreciation for nature. It’s never too late to start the process.


Blog written by By Rosemary Mueller, MPH, RDN, LDN, Advocate Medical Group — Advocate Weight Management



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