There are some people out there who have a naturally healthy mindset about food. They automatically perceive food as fuel, and nothing else. They make choices about what to eat based on what their daily nutritional requirements are, and they don’t think too much about any of the other aspects of food.
For the rest of us, though, eating can be a minefield of emotional attachment, and sometimes downright hedonistic indulgence.
We eat because we love it, because certain foods send the pleasure centers of our brains into overdrive. We choose particular foods because we are craving a certain taste or texture, or even because they reminds us of some pleasant, happy memory.
This sort of behavior is okay in small doses, but when high stress situations pop up, sometimes things can get out of control.
Comfort eating is often a big pitfall when stress is at a high. If you are under serious pressure at work, and mashed potatoes with butter remind you of simpler, happier times when Mom would make delicious meals and you didn’t have a care in the world, it’s tempting to want to spend your evening stuffing your face with those pleasant reminders of your childhood. After all, you’ve had a hard day, so you deserve to have a treat, right?
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, but consider this: although you may be quelling your anxiety temporarily, that little bit of escapism can cause problems both in the short-term and down the road, especially if it becomes a habit as a coping mechanism.
When we are stressed, it is often more difficult for our bodies to function at full capacity. We are more prone to things like infections, migraine headaches, and depression. Add poor nutrition to the mix, and what you have is a recipe for disaster.
Food not only fuels our systems, it also affects brain function and serotonin levels, as well as more superficial things like the appearance of our hair and skin. If you’re not keeping a healthy balance of vitamins and nutrients, or if you’re loading up on things like sugar and starchy carbohydrates, you are more than canceling out any perceived psychological benefits you think you have gained from comfort eating.
Not eating right can make it more difficult for you to regulate your moods, and when you are under a lot of stress it is of utmost importance to be as in control of your emotions as possible.
Also, let’s not forget the more obvious issue: packing on pounds of excess fat is not healthy at the best of times, but when you’re stressed and feeling under pressure, it’s easy to get in the pattern of falsely associating unhealthy food with successful coping, thus causing physical problems as much as emotional ones.
This is a habit which, if left unchecked, can make it very difficult to lose the fat later. And of course as you become aware of your rising body fat percentage, your self-confidence is likely to suffer, as well, only adding to your overall anxiety.
But not all people are stress eaters; some have the opposite problem that they don’t want to eat when they have too many other things going on. Nervousness, pressure, and an overly-packed schedule can lead to eating tiny, inadequate portions, or skipping meals altogether.
This is obviously just as harmful as overeating, as your body needs energy in order to function. When you’re only getting small amounts of junk food in sporadic bursts, the strain it puts on your internal organs can lead to exhaustion, chronic headaches, and more serious medical problems.
So if you know that a period of stress is approaching, or you find yourself already in one, do the smart thing — stock up on fruits and vegetables, keep healthy snacks handy to combat the urge for comfort eating, and make sure you make time to exercise.
Monitor your portion sizes, and make sure you eat moderate amounts at regular intervals, even if you have to set reminder alarms to do it. Keeping your body in good condition may seem like a hassle when you are under pressure to do so many other things, but the physical and mental strength you gain will help you deal with stress in a more efficient way, a benefit which far outweighs the small amount of effort it takes to exercise and eat well.
Pic of the Day: Panda Toast Shaper