April is National Stress Awareness Month. Stress can affect our health in a number of ways, including our behaviours around eating.
Last year, a study found that if your job is stressing you out, it's more likely that you will overeat at dinnertime. The study in the Journal of Applied Psychology was one of the first to investigate how psychological experiences at work shape our eating patterns.
“Employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table, as manifested in eating more than usual and choosing junk food instead of healthy food,” said study co-author Chu-Hsiang Chang, a psychology professor at Michigan State University.
So why does stress make us want to eat to excess? Professor Chang said people often used food to relieve and regulate a bad mood, because it's in our nature to instinctively avoid negative feelings in favour of good ones.
Increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to increased fat storage around your middle. Part of the reason for this is because we haven't evolved much since caveman times, when stress meant a need for 'fight or flight'. Our bodies adapted to store the extra energy somewhere it is easy to access – your middle. Not particularly helpful in today's world!
In clinic, I see many clients who are dealing with the unwelcome side effects of leading a stressful life. Aside from working on creating meal plans that help your body deal more effectively with stress, I also work with clients to create healthy lifestyle habits, so they're less likely to reach for the biscuit tin when life gets challenging.
If you feel that stress is an issue for you, here's a short exercise you can try to help you get some clarity around your stress and what you can do to help manage it.
· What is the cause of my stress? (thoughts, people, events, finances)
· How do I respond to stress? (become tense / irritable, eat, worry, etc.)
· How much of the stress am I in control of? Identify the parts you have control over and decide what you can change (e.g. avoiding the stressor)
· Am I thinking about the situation accurately? Do I have the skills to deal with it? Do I have enough time? Can I get someone to help me? Are my standards unachievably high? Have I made a plan?
· Are my negative thoughts accurate? Are they really true? What would a friend say about them? Replace them with more positive thoughts that are honest, believable and specific.
A good nutrition and lifestyle plan can make a huge difference when it comes to helping you deal with stress and its negative effects on your health and your waistline. If you would like support with managing your stress levels, book in for a complimentary call with me to discuss how we can work together to turn your health – and your life – around.