Last night, I ate almost half a package of double stuff Oreos. It’s true. There. I said it. And I feel better now. Sort of.
It never ceases to amaze me how much I turn to food when I’m feeling totally overwhelmed. I’m not sure why I find comfort in stuffing my face, but I do. It’s really a horrible vicious cycle. I get stressed and moody over the circumstances of my life, so I eat crap that’s only going to land directly on my thighs, which only makes me more grumpy, which in turn heightens my desire for sweet, salty or fatty foods. It’s just bad. It’s also a scientific fact that I’m not the only one:
Scientists refer to this phenomenon as emotional eating—a way that many people cope with negative feelings like depression, anxiety, stress, and boredom. People who normally restrain their food consumption lose self-discipline when faced with stressors that seem beyond their control. This pushes them to make dietary choices that are detrimental in the long term, but that in the short term offer immediate gratification and relief (albeit temporary) from negative emotions. In fact, several studies have shown that people under chronic stress tend to gain weight over time, due to both stress-related endocrine changes and aberrant coping behaviors that center on food.
In general, scientists have found that eating a meal alters your mood and emotional predisposition, typically reducing irritability and increasing calmness. A study in Psychosomatic Medicine confirmed that people tend to consume food in order to self-medicate their feelings of stress or anxiety. Thirty-four men and women were told that they needed to prepare a four-minute speech that would be recorded by video equipment and later assessed by the researchers for its quality. This produced so much stress in the participants that their blood pressure increased and their mood worsened. An additional 34 volunteers served as a control group. All participants were then allowed to eat as much as they wanted of a selection of foods. The outcome? The stressed group consumed 88% more sweet, fatty food than did the control group.
Scientists believe these choices are not made solely because of the pleasing taste of these foods. Carbohydrate-rich, protein-poor meals allow greater uptake of the amino acid tryptophan into the brain, where it serves as a precursor for synthesis of the brain neurotransmitter known as serotonin. Consuming these foods can also relieve stress by stimulating the release of brain opioids known as endorphins, which induce a sense of pleasure, and dopamine, another brain neurotransmitter that underpins the positive reward system, including the anticipation of pleasure. – From LE Magazine April 2007.
Knowing there’s a reason for my overeating should make me feel better – but it doesn’t. I wish understanding that I’m simply coping with all my internalized stress would allow the Jillian-in-my-head to cut me some slack…but no. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that our bodies are hard wired to promote stress eating. What was God thinking? Actually, I kind of know what He was thinking. At one point it was a good thing for our bodies to stimulate eating as a stress control. “Help! The neighboring villagers are attacking us and burning down our fields!” used to be a super good reason to start hoarding food. I mean really, back in the day you ate whenever possible to survive right? I just don’t think it’s necessary anymore for our brains to send us into eating overdrive because of perceived stresses in life. Cause I’m pretty sure the difficulties I’m struggling with lately aren’t going to have any impact on my access to sustenance.
I hate that I’m currently dreaming of macaroni and cheese, tuna melts, McDonald’s french fries and heaping platters of nachos. Actually, just typing those foods out gave me a little bit of a rush. How sad is that? I am not a sane person right now. I need some serious help. Anyone know a good stress relieving technique that doesn’t involve Oreos?