Emotional eating has adverse effects on health


Emotional eating is a common outlet under stress. However, eating under stress can cause weight gain. Overweight leads to other co-morbid conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, acid reflux and depression. I would like to share facts and tips regarding handling stress in a way that will not affect your health

Emotions are valuable assets and many times ladies get tagged about being ‘over emotional’ (a mild way of saying ‘you are melodramatic’).

‘Stress’ is considered an emotion, just as ‘sadness’ or ‘happiness’. Stress is also referred to as ‘tension’. Stress has received significant attention in recent years.

Stress, a part of life, occurs in response to pressure from number of circumstances. Pressure can be due to job, career, family, relationships or health issues of self or loved ones. Experience is that any good, bad, small or big change can cause stress. For example, changing a job or relocation can be stressful.

Stress is universal and in general ladies get stressed more than men. Traditional Indian women are under pressure due to numerous responsibilities. Studies have shown that approximately 87% Indian women are stressed and 82% of them have no time to relax (Economic Times, June 29, 2011).

It is common to get overwhelmed in situations such as kid’s birthday party, wedding or festival preparations etc. Stress is response to pressure of any daily task including work, home or social pressure.

The National Diabetes Awareness programme of the Center of Disease Control (CDC) recommends that prevention is key to any stress response. The saying ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ is certainly true when it comes to stress. Emotional eating:

1) Eating fast food: Fast food is not a bad option as long as it does not become a regular habit, and provided the meal is chosen wisely. We always eat more, when we eat fast, and tend to make poor food choices while under stress. Eating chips (potato wafers), burgers, kurkure, chocolate, ice cream or pizza while working late night is most common, but not healthy. Also, starchy food (carbohydrates) while popular, is not recommended either.

2) Eating on the go: Eating in a relaxed setting is very important. Always take a break at work from your busy schedule. Do not eat in front of the computer or at your desk, while working. Take a water break instead of a ‘smoking’ break.

3) Eating out: Working moms are always overwhelmed with kid’s homework and afterschool activities. Take-out or eating out is common. While this is alright to some extent, it is important to order wisely.

4) Eating from the box or package: Eating straight out of the package (or box) is not recommended, because it is difficult to monitor the quantity being consumed. When you order a Pizza or Vada Pav, be sure to take a plate and serve yourself to keep track of the serving size(s).

5) Boredom eating or mindless eating: Avoid eating just because you are bored. It is important to taste the food by savouring its flavour. We should recognise that there is a difference between eating for fun (time pass) and eating when hungry. Be self-critical by asking yourself – Are you hungry? When did you eat last? If it was less than 3 hours, take a walk or shower, instead of eating. Call a friend, read something, engage in gardening or take a 10 minute walk to take your mind away from eating.

6) Sweet and salty snacks: After a hard day of work, it is alright to have a cup of masala chai, coffee, cappuccino with friends or family. However, it does not stop with a cup of tea; we love to eat sweets and fried salty snacks. Small portions and moderation is the key. Try to avoid random snacks, and if you cannot – then treat that as a meal, or an early evening dinner.

7) Drinking your calories: High calories or caffeinated beverages are a norm with young students or professionals to help stay awake. However, this can make you dehydrated. It is important to drink water between consuming sodas (Coke, Pepsi), coffee, tea and or alcohol. Fruit juice and milkshake can add sugar and fat calories. A fruit snack or one glass of plain milk is an healthier option.

8) Happy eating: It is great to have parties to celebrate various occasions, but do not make food as a central part of the enjoyment. It is alright to meet after dinner at a playground or a walking trail. Well balanced meals and fun activities take the mind away from food. You can be the first one to change the norms or traditions.

When we eat under stress we never eat healthy. For example, think if you ever fixed a salad when stressed. It’s highly unlikely. The scientific or biological reason for this is Stress Hormone Cortisol. The cortisol level is very high when you are stressed, and that makes you crave for carbohydrates, sugar and fatty foods.

If you are willing to make a change; write down situations or people who can cause stress in your life. It is important to make sure that you as an individual are not causing stress for people around you.
1. It will help to note down your emotions.
2. Talk to your friends, family or a counselor.

Talking to a counselor does not necessarily mean that something is wrong and does not have to be taboo. In high stressed jobs, it is very common practice to have expert support. It helps the employer as well, because stress can affect your job performance. Many work places provide child care, gym and yoga classes on site.

However, are we taking advantage of these facilities? If you are single you will be able to do it but after work most of us would like to go home to our family. Family sports evening is also a very good option.

It is alright to ask for flex hours if you do not want to be time-bound. Most of the companies all over the world are doing this to increase the satisfaction of their employees. Take a vacation or day off for yourself.

Find a way to say NO when asked to do something you think is demanding on your time, whether it is at work or pleasure. Social pressure can be stressful. Let’s consider an example. You may want to watch a movie with your friends. However, you do not want to go out for dinner before or after. It is ok to say yes for the movie and no for dinner.

Always say YES to what matters the most

  • Share your workload with others – whether at work or home. If you are inviting someone for dinner it is alright to have potluck (everyone brings one dish for a party).
  • Do not promise too much.
  • Plan ahead. I have been working for over 20 years. I keep my lunch box ready the night before. This way I know what I am eating. Invest in a lunch box with insulation, so even if you do not have a fridge or cold storage, the food can stay safe for at least four hours.
  • Always eat breakfast. A healthy and full breakfast is very important.
  • Take charge of your time. Get organised.
  • Stress can be hormonal. Women and men go through hormonal changes after middle age and it is important to talk to your doctor.
  • Physical exercise is an excellent stress buster. Walking or Yoga is very good for health. Choose an activity that you will enjoy and be regular at.
  • Walk away from stressful situations, negative people and be positive. Remember the purpose. 

Stress can lead to depression and it is a chronic disorder.

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