There are many healthy and unhealthy ways to handle stress. One option to cope is something I have coined in my practice as “The Good Girl Addiction”.
Good girls typically work really hard, people please, have multiple tasks on hand, and in order to cope with the stress of it all, what do they do?
The Good Girl Addict doesn’t misuse drinking much or drugs to handle her stress because she wouldn’t be able to accomplish her many goals. Rather, she eats. In fact, weight loss or weight gain can often be a major symptom of stress.
The two types of people whose weight and eating are affected by anxiety or stress are hyperphagic (tendency to eat more) and hypophagic (tendency to eat less).
Two-thirds of people struggling with stress or anxiety are hyperphagic stress eaters.
Stress eating inevitably adds more stress to the body because the body releases the stress hormones called cortisol which increase appetite because the body anticipates needing to store more energy for future stressful events.
The body releases two types of stress hormones: CRH and glucocorticoids (cortisol). CRH will actually decrease the appetite but only in the first few seconds of a stressor, while glucocorticoid stays in the bloodstream longer and can last for hours.
Dependent on your body’s individual chemistry to stress, if you release more CRH than glucocorticoids, then your appetite will suppress. If you release more glucocorticoids than CRH, then your appetite will increase because your body is attempting to recover from a stressor. If you have the same levels of both in your body then you are in the middle of a sustained stressor.
The majority of western society deal with stress frequently and intermittently throughout each day.
That means our stress hormones are continually being activated. Just as we are experiencing a CRH hormone burst in the body, we are trying to recover activating a glucocorticoid burst.
A typical response is to want to eat in order to recover from stress, and the types of foods that are craved are high in carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine to elevate mood. We do this to cheer ourselves up after dealing with something stressful.
Don’t the majority of us want to reward ourselves or maybe even think we deserve a treat after a tough day?
- The first proactive step to supporting your body’s relationship to stress is to provide adequate dietary support.
Food and drinks like caffeine or alcohol are often the main vices people lean on during stress filled circumstances. Providing healthy nurturing meals and plenty of water throughout the day is essential to fuel your body for the level of mental and physical activity occurring.
- Second, eliminate the cycle of taking on too much and create decompression points in your day.
Evaluate why you are so busy and what is your motivation behind the busyness.
- Third, delay gratification and create space from you and the food by becoming more aware about why you are eating.
You can do this by changing your pattern when you get home from work. For example, if your habit is to go straight to the kitchen after work, choose to have a glass of water instead and take a few deep breaths.
- Lastly, use your faith to support making healthy choices.
In the book of James it says to pray for wisdom and if you boldly believe that God will answer your prayers, you will receive more wisdom.
Stress eating comes from a fear based place and lacks wisdom because you are trying to cope with your stress using an unhealthy coping mechanism.
In fact, many binge eaters and stress eaters will often remark that when they eat they feel numb to their problems and they may not even taste the food.
Reflect on if you are actually hungry and what is your purpose with the food.
The calmer you can approach the stressors in your life, the easier it is to make better decisions and use food for the purpose it has been created for your body; fuel.
Here is Dr. Jenna's bio: Dr. Jenna Flowers is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Speaker and Author of The Conscious Parent's Guide to Coparenting: A Mindful Approach to Creating a Collaborative, Positive Parenting Plan. You can connect with Dr. Jenna on Instagram or her Website.