The relationship between stress and eating

More and more research is beginning to show the link between stress and eating behavior.  Stress can either produce undereating or overeating depending on the severity of the stressor.  However, there is a consistent pattern of evidence that people will eat food that is higher in sugar and fat when stressed.  While this type of eating might produce some short term psychological relief, the result is an increase in abdominal obesity and cardiovascular disease.  According to a study in Nutrition (Volume 23, Issues 11-12, November-December 2007, Pages 887-894), longitudinal studies suggest that chronic life stress may be causally linked to weight gain, with a greater effect seen in men.  This research indicates that stress-induced eating may be at least a partial explanation for the rising rates of obesity in our country.  Therefore, being aware of your stress levels and finding ways to better manage your stress will be essential in helping you make changes in your eating habits.  Anecdotally, at the end of each eight week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program that I teach, participants regularly report they have made changes in the way they eat even though we don’t specifically focus on food after the first week of the program when asked to eat one meal mindfully.  It is not surprising that more “mindful eating” programs are incorporating tools for handling stress such as meditation and yoga as an important component.  In addition, the skill of “being present” is essential when making choices about eating.  For a quick break from your stress and to cultivate your ability to be awake to your life and the choices you make, listen to a Taste of Mindfulness or the Three Minute Breathing Space  It only takes a minute or two to really make a difference in the way you feel.