About the link between emotions and weight
Have you ever wondered why you go through phases where you eat more than you normally would? There are studies that indicate that weight gain may be caused by ongoing emotional stress in your life. For example, this ongoing stress could be related to your work or personal life.
It is a very common phenomenon in today’s day and age for people to work long hours and with back to back deadlines. As a result of this, many people skip regular nutritious cooked meals and instead opt for easily available, calorie dense, energy poor foods not only to combat their hunger pains but also because it increases the level of the ‘feel good hormone’ – serotonin. When you are stressed, the level of this hormone is reduced and your brain signals you to consume foods such as refined carbohydrates which increase the serotonin levels.
Although the concept of emotional eating is not fully understood, there is increasing evidence to suggest that there is a link between stress and binge eating of nutrient poor foods, hence weight gain. The issue of weight gain is prominent especially when the stress is ongoing because immediately after a person experiences stress, corticotrophin releasing hormone (CTRH) is released in the body which acts to suppress appetite. However, in the case of ongoing stress, the body undergoes a number of physiological changes which can lead to weight gain.
Essentially, in the presence of stress, there is an increase in glucocorticoid levels, such as cortisol, in the blood, which increases the activity of lipoprotein lipase. The function of this enzyme is to promote fat storage especially around the visceral organs. This is the reason why sometimes you see a bulge developing around your stomach when you are stressed for long periods of time. In addition to the effects glucocorticoids have on lipoprotein lipase, glucocorticoids also increase the ‘hunger’ signals as well as reduces the body’s sensitivity to leptin, the hormone which suppresses appetite.
Your hormones have a key role to play in your eating habits, reacting strongly to how you are feeling at a particular period of time. The take home message is that it is important to carefully observe your own eating habits. One should ask themselves, ‘Am I eating because I am hungry or do I just want a momentary distraction from the stress I am facing’. Often simply asking this question can stop you from going for that piece of chocolate or piece of cake and instead looking for solutions other than food to solve the problem of stress.
Some tips to prevent emotional eating include:
- Crunching on some veggies such as baby carrots or celery can avoid the need to consume an unhealthy snack.
- Exercising or meditation not only distracts you from the thought of snacking but it also helps in relieving stress.
- If you feel like you cannot avoid constant snacking, try to swap your choice of snack. For example, swapping a bag of chips with a piece of fruit or a swapping chocolate with a handful of unsalted nuts, at least it’s nutritious!
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This article was written by our dietitian Juhi Bhambhaney who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practicing Dietitian and Nutritionist. If you have questions about nutrition, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!
- The two way link between eating behaviour and brain metabolism. Luba Sominksky and Sarah J Spencer.School of Health Sciences and Health Innovations Research Institute. RMIT University. Frontiers in Psychology. 13th May 2014.
- How to stop emotional eating. https://www.womenshealthnetwork.com/