Stress & Emotional Eating Make you Over Eat

By: Aaron Snyder

Though you may never be able to tell because they're so intertwined, some of you are gaining more weight from the foods that stress is influencing you to eat, as opposed to any inherent metabolic impairments. In nearly all cases where stress is involved with weight gain, emotional eating plays a profound role. Stress affects our ability to maintain stable blood sugar - it can spike it high and drop it low. Stress also plays a profound role in influencing the levels of our favorite neurotransmitters, dopamine and serotonin.
The lesson on how stress affects your appetite is simple: Stress will cause you to over eat and store most of those calories as fat.

Crisis, Then Cravings
We've all had deadlines at work. You know; those projects where you come to work a two hours early and stay four hours late to finish. You put your personal life on hold. Sometimes, you put your hygiene on hold (hey, it happens). Nerves are touchy. People are cranky. And there's no sigh of relief until it's all over. But that won't be for at least another 120 hours.
Even when under this kind of pressure, most people are able to obtain some sort of equilibrium - less sleep, fewer breaks, but you rationalize to yourself that nevertheless, if you maintain this pace, you'll be able to make it to the finish line with your sanity.
And then you get the call; or the e-mail; or the word from your coworker who rushes into your office with that look on his face that only means one thing - this job is now going to suck and the only thing that is going to suck more than this job will be my life until this miserable form of purgatory is over.
This is where those reserves in your stamina that you've hidden away for a rainy day come into play. You feel the sweat on your forehead and collar; you really wish business casual included shorts on days like this. You're now rushing from the printer to your coworker. Your pulse is racing; there's a knot below your chest. You're speed walking to your boss's office for approval on the next section. Your heart is racing and your pupils are half their normal size. While on the phone, you tap your fingers for every 2 seconds that you're on hold. How much longer will this crisis leer over my head? Everything takes too much time, and there isn't enough time for anything.
Never mind the fact that this news has come to you as you're taking down the last part of a well deserved Subway Sandwich (low fat on whole wheat of course). And so, with a full belly and a fuller docket, you run to the phone booth, put on your cape, and leap up, up, and away to save your coworkers from the evil UPS man who's threatening to leave at 4pm with or without your package on his truck...
It's now 90 minutes since this crisis started and you're already wearing thin. You have to keep moving but for some odd reason, that sandwich that normally keeps you full until at least 4:30 is not doing its job of protecting you from the temptation of the birthday cake that's left over in the fridge from last week's party. You're not so much hungry as you are craving the taste of sugar in your mouth. You're actually salivating, and although your stomach is full, it's murmuring for some action. You can't get the thought of that cake out of your head...
Another 30 minutes goes by and you're feeling fatigued. You're tired and cranky, you still have another 2 hours of mind numbing details to go over before you can take a break, and you've had it with your drama queen coworker who freaks out on the outside instead of bottling it all up, and keeping her nervous break-downs to herself, like the rest of us...
Not even within 5 minutes of this pivotal moment, you've already cut yourself a slice of the cake that's one and a half times larger than normal and you're pouring a coke into a plastic cup to go along with it. Off you go back to your desk to tackle the situation with new found stamina and exuberance.
If this was the first time this year you've done this, you wouldn't be so concerned about your ever increasing waistline. And if this was the first time this month you've done this, you wouldn't be so concerned that your waistline was going to expand ever so faster. But you've recently noticed you average about 3 or 4 crises a month, which totals to 5 or 6 sugar binges a month.
Believe me, if these were the only times you ate poorly out of an entire month, your growing waistline wouldn't be a problem. However, we are creatures of habit, and the person who runs to the candy machine every time they encounter stress is not the kind of person who calmly moderates their junk food intake during all the other opportunities in a given month in a typical American life. It just doesn't work that way.

Freaking Out When Full Can Make You Fatter
Why did this happen? You ate a full meal and then immediately encountered a stressful situation. When that happens, low blood sugar is inevitable within 90 minutes for anyone susceptible to low blood sugar swings.
As soon as you eat, insulin rises to store that food into your liver, muscle, and fat cells. It's the liver to which we want to pay special attention; cortisone will demand its glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate) first as soon as a stress is encountered.
But what happens when you just ate and encountered a stress? Your liver gets confused as it processes glycogen from insulin while simultaneously releasing its already stored glycogen to cortisone. It's not as simple as depositing $1,000 in cash in the bank and then letting your friend cash a check from you for the same amount; your liver wants to either store glycogen or release it at any given time, not both. The result is less glycogen stored from insulin, and less glycogen released to cortisone. In a few hours time (as little as 90 minutes), this can result in low blood sugar, leaving you hungry to eat again. But these will be calories that you did not completely burn. Your metabolic rate will be running higher in the face of the stress, but your low blood sugar will give you the tendency to want to keep eating beyond the calories you've burned.
This is a very likely time where you'll want to binge on something sugary. You're liable to feel tired, distracted, and mentally fogged. You'll be moving slower and even the simplest tasks will feel like a burden. Dopamine and serotonin will be low - you'll need a reward - something that makes up for all the overexertion you've just put yourself through. Indeed, this feeling that you deserve it will be the very argument you make to yourself to justify your actions.
What's interesting is that your blood sugar may feel low but may not be that low. Blood sugar in this situation will likely be in the low end of normal (80-90 mg/dl). It's very well documented that people sensitive to blood sugar swings who were fed large doses of caffeine (a.k.a. stress in a plastic cup) complained of low blood sugar symptoms when their actual blood sugar tested within the normal to low-normal range. No one was going to pass out in a diabetic coma from the coffee, but they still experienced the familiar shakes, sugar cravings, crankiness, hunger, sweating, and rapid heart beat associated with low blood sugar.
The reason caffeine and low blood sugar can make you feel this way is due to adrenalin. You experience the above symptoms when you're hypoglycemic because of a surge in adrenalin, but adrenalin is also released whenever you consume caffeine. Same hormone in both situations, same feelings.
The focus here should not be on the coffee but the effects of stress, here in the form of caffeine, on those prone to low blood sugar. Your body when facing a crisis at work will elicit the same stress response and excrete relatively the same amount of adrenalin that you would when under the effects of a strong cup of java.

The Effects Of Stress When Full
-When you eat, your liver stores some of the calories from food as liver glycogen - a stored meal to be used when your blood sugar is low, you're under stressful situations, or you're exercising
-Glycogen is released for fuel under stress via cortisone
-When you just ate and encounter a stress, the body is trying to store glycogen in the liver while cortisone is trying to have it released.
-Because the liver has to perform both roles at once, less glycogen is stored and less is released
-This can set you up for a blood sugar crash within 90 minutes of the meal, resulting in cravings for carbohydrates

Solving The Stress Eater's Dilemma
So how do we avoid the inevitable cake dive two hours from now? There are three answers. The first solution is to stay calm at the get go so as to not incur a stress response. Will rushing like a puppet on strings for your boss get the job done accurately or in reality any faster? Not likely. This is the number one thing you can do - don't elicit a stress response in the first place if at all possible.
Some of you might be laughing right now, thinking "easier said than done." And you'd be right. It will require changing the way that you respond to situations that you would normally find stressful. This may require relaxation exercises, cognitive reframing, and (gasp!) taking breaks. It will also take repeated experiences of the same situation so you can improve upon your old response. It will be well worth your effort to do so - if you can avoid all or nearly all of your stress induced binges over a month, I can guarantee you could be 10 lbs lighter within 12 months from now. That's a better deal than most of you would get from half a year's worth of fat burners and without spending $250 on them over 6 months!
If staying calm is not happening, then understand that you may be hungrier in 90-120 minutes, and allow that. DO NOT DOWN CAFFEINE AT THIS TIME. This will only make your future symptoms worse. Before hunger strikes, decide what an appropriate sized snack will be and stick to it. Make sure it's relatively low in calories, around 200, and high in fiber, protein, and low Glycemic carbs. An apple with a small chicken breast or a can of tuna is a perfect example. So would a protein bar that is not high in sugar. The protein and good carbs will boost your dopamine and serotonin levels, as well as level out your blood sugar, alleviating the probability of a binge. This solution is a heck of a lot better than a pasta-feed or a soda and candy raid, and it will pay off big in pounds NOT GAINED over a year.
If simply stopping the sugar cravings and increased appetite in their tracks is your desire, the final solution would be to employ the following amino acid cocktail on an empty stomach right when the cravings are at their worst, or really whenever you feel the need.
-2,000 mg of L-Glutamine in powdered form
-50 to 100mg of 5-HTP
-1,000 to 2,000 mg of L-Tyrosine
-(Optional) match the Tyrosine with an equal amount of Phenylalanine
-(Optional) 500 mg of GABA or 100 mg of L-Theonine if you get anxious, bordering on a panic attack, under stress. You can also add 300 mg of standardized ginseng extract per day
Besides speeding up your metabolism and giving you increased mental energy (courtesy of the tyrosine and phenylalanine), this cocktail will kill your sugar cravings immediately (courtesy of the glutamine) and keep them down for the next several hours (courtesy of the 5-HTP). If you encounter debilitating anxiety when under stress, consider adding GABA it's basically a safe, non-drowsy form of Xanax, except you can't trademark and over charge for an amino acid, so pharmaceutical companies won't market it. L-theonine, an amino acid that is converted to GABA once in the body, may have an even stronger effect, though it is a bit more expensive. If crises and cravings really are a way of life for you, it would be prudent to keep these amino acids close by in any environment where you'll need them. They have stopped me from stuffing doughnuts and low carb candy bars down my throat on countless occasions, and I promise they will do the same for you.

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