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David Baxter

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Doctors: Don't Find Comfort in Stress Eating
October 12, 2004
New York Times Syndicate

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It could be an argument over that five-figure purchase from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Or the energy-sapping demands of teen-age children.

And it certainly could be the trauma generated by hurricanes Frances and Jeanne.

Whatever the trigger, stress eating can pack on the pounds quicker than you can say "Godiva Belgian Dark Chocolate ice cream." French fries, potato chips and those oh-so-handy pints of Ben & Jerry's can transform you into a Chunky Monkey if you fail to recognize what is happening.

Two area weight-loss experts say recognizing stress eating and using strategies to avoid it are key to preventing an unwanted weight increase.

Turning to comfort foods When situations cause psychological stress, comfort foods -- foods typically high in sugar and fat -- offer a quick fix, said Dr. Daisy Merey, a family practitioner who specializes in treating obesity.

Food and pleasure are inexorably linked.

"We were under a lot of stress," Merey said, referring to the hurricanes that recently slammed the Palm Beaches.

"When our roof is caving in and we have water coming up to the ankles, we don't care about anything but how to relieve stress," Merey said.

"Food is our number one anti-anxiety product and antidepressant. And it's available. You don't need a prescription." We typically reach for high-carbohydrate, high-fat foods during times of stress because those foods gave comfort in childhood, according to Dr. Lisa Marie DeRosimo, director of the Weight and Wellness Center in West Palm Beach.

"You get instant gratification. You feel good for the moment. At a time when things have been so uncertain and out of control, it brings back memories of foods that made you feel better as a child," DeRosimo said.

Merey agrees.

"When we were children and fell down and hurt our knee, our mother would give us a cookie and it would make it better," Merey said. "So we learned food is the best consolation. It's been ingrained in our brain."

Craving comfort foods
Chemicals in foods such as chocolate may increase the levels of serotonin, dopamine and other mood-lifting neurotransmitters in the brain. Once people start indulging in foods high in fat and sugar, the brain and body get used to those foods and crave them, said Merey, author of Don't Be a Slave to What You Crave (S.P.I. Books).

"Once you start, like the commercial for potato chips says, 'you can't eat just one,' " Merey said. "Once the brain is primed by that particular food, it just wants more and more. It is an addiction." Health risks Comfort foods such as cookies, ice cream and candy bars raise blood-sugar levels and heavy consumption of them can increase the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, DeRosimo said.

The spike in blood sugar can boost a person's energy and mood, but the subsequent drop in blood sugar rapidly takes away those benefits.

"You can feel more tired and depressed than you felt before you started," DeRosimo said. "Then you want more and more. It is a vicious cycle." Strategies for change Being aware of the consequences of stress eating is the first step in eliminating it as a problem.

When possible, decide what you will order before you arrive at a restaurant, Merey said.

"If you go out to eat, think ahead of time what particular food you are going to consume so you are not going to be swayed by somebody else," said Merey, who has her clients maintain a diet diary.

"They realize, 'Oh yeah, every time my mother-in-law says something nasty to me, I open the refrigerator and I eat everything that is there,' " Merey said. The bariatrics specialist also advises clients to stay away from the bakery and other areas of the grocery store filled with diet-busting foods.

Rather than eating to ease frustrations, Merey suggests exercise or treating oneself with a small present.

DeRosimo suggests exercise and professional counseling as ways to combat unhealthful eating habits. Reading a behavior modification book might be helpful, DeRosimo said.

"It's been a very difficult time," DeRosimo said. "Remember you are not alone. Everyone is experiencing the same thing to a certain degree."
 

Enigma

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David Baxter said:
Rather than eating to ease frustrations, Merey suggests exercise or treating oneself with a small present.

Good point - exercise increases serotonin levels as well, which proves that there are other ways. However, I do not dispel the fact that exercise will not be top of the list of things one turns to for comfort. It just needs to be put into practice. How? With a little determination and motivation. Even that is hard to acquire, so it seems that eating for comfort is one of the easiest to achieve, unfortunately.

What about eating for comfort and exercising to balance it out? Would that double serotonin levels? Just a thought!
 

jubjub

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I have changed my eating habits a lot since July 9, 2004. Yes, I remember the date SPECIFICALLY! I eat more, actually, just "good stuff" for the most part. By that I mean a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables meats and dairy products and I mostly leave out the fat, starches and sugars. I am not sure how much weight I have lost, maybe 30 pounds, because I am not getting weighed by choice. If I have rice, bread or pasta or potatoes, I make it once a DAY, usually for dinner. Sometimes I will break down and have a small cup of low fat ice cream. I baked 20 pounds of fruit cake last weekend and all I ate of that was a small chunk taken off one of the corners, just to see how it turned out. I really don't know where the will power is coming from, but I think it stems from the fact that I see results. I actually had to change my choice of office attire yesterday because the clothes I was going to wear were too BIG! That felt pretty good.....
 

David Baxter

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Good for you, jubjub, for your willpower, for the results, and for your decision not to weigh yourself.

Tauri, who is in here occasionally, calls preoccupation with weighing yourself "weighing your self-esteem"... I like that concept.
 
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What about doing the opposite and eating less when you are stressed? When I get really stressed, I won't even want to look at food, it's the opposite of comforting.
 

David Baxter

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I'm more like that too, Freezing Heart. What I try to do is make sure I drink fluids and at least have some soup or a sandwich or something... it's basically just maintenance eating but it's enough to keep one healthy in the short run and of course one needs energy to combat stress so it helps that way too. I guess I think of it as refueling rather than eating at such times.
 

Qgirl

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Freezing_heart_of_fire said:
What about doing the opposite and eating less when you are stressed? When I get really stressed, I won't even want to look at food, it's the opposite of comforting.

I get this way when I am depressed. And then a few months later, I completely flip a 180 and start eating comfort foods like they are going out of style.

Lately, I've turned to exercise for comfort. I am overweight so I feel that I am doing something good for myself. Exercise makes me hungry, so it makes me want to eat. It also makes me want to eat healthy food since I have been working so hard at the gym. But the best part, is that when I am working out, it is the one time in my day that I can feel something other than emotional pain. It helps to relieve my stress. And the routine of going is comforting to me now. And to see that I'm getting in better shape lifts my spirits. It prevents me from turning to comfort food, because I don't want to hamper my achievement.
 
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Qgirl said:
Freezing_heart_of_fire said:
What about doing the opposite and eating less when you are stressed? When I get really stressed, I won't even want to look at food, it's the opposite of comforting.

I get this way when I am depressed. And then a few months later, I completely flip a 180 and start eating comfort foods like they are going out of style.

Lately, I've turned to exercise for comfort. I am overweight so I feel that I am doing something good for myself. Exercise makes me hungry, so it makes me want to eat. It also makes me want to eat healthy food since I have been working so hard at the gym. But the best part, is that when I am working out, it is the one time in my day that I can feel something other than emotional pain. It helps to relieve my stress. And the routine of going is comforting to me now. And to see that I'm getting in better shape lifts my spirits. It prevents me from turning to comfort food, because I don't want to hamper my achievement.

You're a lot smarter than I am. A few years ago I just stopped eating all together to the point where my body wouldn't physically take food in (I would purge)..so after going in and out of hospitals, I got to a point where I could take in basic foods. Threw off my metabolism completly and all that...but yeah, good exercise is the way to do it. Foods have just never offered the value of comfort. If you sit back and think about it, I would rather be a few pounds overweight than having my body eat away at itself to stay alive, but while you're caught in the cycles, it's not always that easy. Yay for exercise.
 

jubjub

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Well, guess what Ms. Princess of the GI Diet did today? I started off well with a little cup of Source yogourt with a bit of bran flakes mixed in. I had a hunk of cold meatloaf. I had a tangerine. I had a handful of almonds. I had a few more hunks of meatloaf. I had four more little cups of yogourt. I had a huge toasted salami and cheese sandwich with mustard. I had two slices of toast and honey.

I don't feel particularly remorseful and will be back on my diet tomorrow. I just had to write this down because it will help me tomorrow if I feel like doing the same thing again! I have never blown the diet this much since July 9!
 

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