It’s no secret that I work in a very stressful environment. There is nothing about television news that screams low-key, easy and peaceful. We joke around with people who are leaving the business all the time.
“Watch out! You will quit news and lose fifteen pounds just from being less stressed!”
That got me thinking…I hear rumors about stress and diet and weight loss and weight gain, and I started to wonder just what exactly fact when it comes to stress and eating.
I decided to google it for more information, and stumbled across this WebMD article.
Regardless of the reason, stress is a way of life in the 21st century. And for some people, the effects go beyond feelings of anxiety and discomfort. For these people, stress can mean facing each day ravenously hungry — and adding weight gain to their list of worries.
“While the immediate . . . response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, more and more we are coming to recognize that for some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite — and stress-induced weight gain,” says Elissa Epel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco.
The problem, she says, lies within our neuroendocrine system — a brain-to-body connection that harkens back to evolutionary times and which helped our distant ancestors to survive. Though today the source of the stress is more likely to be an unpaid bill than a saber-toothed tiger, this system still activates a series of hormones whenever we feel threatened.
“These hormones give us the biochemical strength we need to fight or flee our stressors,” Epel tells WebMD.
The hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenalin — which gives us instant energy — along with corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually don’t last long.
And cortisol works on a different timetable. Its job is to help us replenish our body after the stress has passed, and it hangs around a lot longer. “It can remain elevated, increasing your appetite and ultimately driving you to eat more,” says Epel.
So don’t eat junk when you are stressed. Got it. But why do we feel the need for comfort food when we are stressed anyway? Why are we blowing off the best anti-depressant out there by not going to work out? Working out doesn’t always mean slamming out a fast 5. It could mean going to a Zumba class, or Boot Camp, or hell…throw on some loud music and mosh by yourself in your living room.
Physical fitness like activities releases endorphins. According to WebMD – Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to that of morphine. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as “euphoric.” That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
Endorphins act as analgesics, which means they diminish the perception of pain. They also act as sedatives. They are manufactured in your brain, spinal cord, and many other parts of your body and are released in response to brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neuron receptors endorphins bind to are the same ones that bind some pain medicines. However, unlike with morphine, the activation of these receptors by the body’s endorphins does not lead to addiction or dependence.
I think the reason we blow off physical activities like running and dancing and lean toward chowing down on a bowl of Moosetracks is because it’s easier to do when you are physically and emotionally exhausted. I know that there have been plenty of times when I have come home from work and sat down and just sat in silence for almost an hour, chowing down on whatever sweet treat I could get my hands on because I just don’t feel like I have the energy to get out there and run. Or when I do run, it’s a crappy one, filled with a lot of walk breaks and uncomfortable feelings.
My suggestion, and this is something I need to take up as well, is to cut back on the workout a bit when you are overly stressed. Don’t plan on doing something balls out if you don’t feel like you can do it, instead replace it with something a little bit more low key. I swear by stuff like Zumba where there is fun music that will also lift your spirits. Or try something like Insanity to help you “pound it out” as I like to put it. Grabbing sweet treats is good for once in a while, but not for when you are stressed and you finish an entire pint of ice cream.
Which I have done before. Plenty of times. Guilt free. 😀
What is your favorite stress relief?