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While we often consider the impact that stress can have on our mental health, we rarely think about the relationship between our stress levels and our eating habits.
Stress plays a major role in our food choices, the portion sizes we eat, and our ability to maintain a healthy weight.
To determine the connection between stress, stress eating, and weight gain, we need to look at the two types of stress: eustress and distress.
Not all stress is bad. Physical exercise, riding a roller coaster, working on an exciting project, or your first day at a new job are all examples of good stress, or eustress. This acute, exciting stress is temporary; and as long as it is not extreme and we allow ourselves to rest and recharge afterward, it is healthy and needed.
Where stress becomes problematic is when it goes from acute eustress to prolonged stress, also called chronic stress, or when it is severe in nature. This type of stress is called distress. When we say, “I’m so stressed out!” We are referring to distress.
Recognizing the difference between acute eustress and chronic distress is essential when working to understand the role that stress plays in stress eating and in weight gain.
The stressed brain expresses both a strong drive to eat and an impaired capacity to inhibit eating — together creating a potent formula for obesity. These findings are consistent with behavioral and clinical research indicating that stress or negative affect decreases emotional and behavioral control and increases impulsivity.
Here are 4 ways to reduce your chances of stress eating according to licensed psychologist Dr. Rebecca Leslie:
Hopefully this blog will shed light and help you become more mindful of when you're eating in distress, or not eating enough when experiencing extreme stress in your life.
This is not medical advice, all changes in your mental or physical health should be addressed by your physician.
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