Could work stress be causing your expanding waistline? A recent Finnish study found that women who had job burnout were more likely to turn to food for comfort and to eat uncontrollably, compared with women who weren’t overworked. The study‘s authors suggested that obesity treatment should include evaluations of people’s work stress and emotional eating habits.
It’s not just a stressful workweek, but also a fight with the spouse, a visit with the in-laws or an all-around low mood that can make the chocolate ice cream beckon that much more seductively. “Stress, anxiety, depression, really any kind of strong emotion can trigger an emotional binge,” says Dr. Joy Jacobs, clinical eating disorder psychologist and assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. “Emotional eating happens whenever someone has an emotion they do not know how to handle, even happiness, and they channel it into an eating experience.”
But while self-medicating through fatty foods can provide temporary comfort, the aftermath is usually bleak. In the short-term, you’re likely to feel regret for binging; in the long-term, you may be setting yourself up for weight gain and related health problems. And spikes in consumption of junk food may end up worsening your mood overall. “We tend to go for the chocolate when we’re stressed out,” says Dr. Susan Albers, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic Family Health Center and author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food. “It increases our blood sugar and we feel good, but then we experience a sudden drop. That drop makes you even more moody and you will want even more sugary snacks.”
One easy trick for curbing cravings is simple distraction. Doctors recommend finding alternatives to eating, such as calling a friend or reading a magazine — one study found that knitting helped take people quit obsessing over food. The same technique may help you overcome other bad habits too, from smoking to biting your nails.
“It’s good to get your hands engaged in something else so you cannot eat at same time,” says Albers. “Do something soothing to calm you down. It will also help you find other things that relax you besides food.” If you can distract yourself for a few minutes, the urge to eat should subside.
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