Overeating and various other forms of eating disorders seems to be a problem for many these days. Many of you wonder why you can’t take control over your eating habits and why the desire for food is controlling you. In this newsletter, you will learn that taking control over your food intake often entails taking control over your life. I will also give you some practical advice to help you take charge and enjoy more controlled eating patterns. I am sure this information will be not only interesting but also very helpful for most of you.
Understand the connection between stress, overeating and other eating disoders
Understanding what happens when we are stressed can help us understand our impulse to overeat. We humans have a number of genetic programs designed to keep us alive. For instance, when a tiger comes out of the woods, our sensory system sends a signal to the brain where different brain parts get activated and prepare us to run or fight for our life. This is the so called fight/flight response – the blood goes away from the viscera and circulation increases to the limbs. This way, you can run faster and won’t bleed to death if wounded in the viscera. Your reaction time is faster too, but that’s at the expense of logic and reasoning.
Apart from being less intelligent when you are in fight/light mode, a lot of the physiological functions in your body are also challenged. The result is poor digestion, impaired sugar metabolism and increased fat storage, to name but a few.
It is great to be able to activate the fight/light response in times of danger, whether a tiger is coming out of the woods or a car is racing around the corner. Here is the problem though – the same stress response is being activated not only when a car is coming fast at you! The same stress response is switched on every time your boss is coming at you, or your mother looks at you with that weird “What have you done again?” expression, or when you are lying awake wondering how you are going to pay the bills. In fact, I can go on with this list and end up mentioning probably about 90% of your daily activities!
Since so much in our daily life is interpreted as threat and activates the fight/flight response, most of us end up chronically stressed; we are in survival mode most of the time. Some don’t even realize that there is another way of being, namely the state of rest-digest-growth-repair. Instead, we suffer the consequences of stress in the form of high blood pressure, diabetes, stomach ulcers, obesity, and much more.
Now, seeing how stress doesn’t help digestion and in fact triggers the fat storage mechanism, why do we tend to eat even more when we are under pressure? The key to understanding this impulse lies partly in understanding the reaction of the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the brain that interprets the threat signals coming at us. It can easily become overloaded because we feel threatened by so many things all the time. When that happens, the amygdala becomes overactive and can therefore trigger a licking/chewing response. Animals tend to lick their paws when they have just survived something dramatic and traumatic. People won’t necessarily lick their hands and fingers but many will bite their nails. The other, perhaps more common response, is nervous chewing. Some will constantly chew gum without even realizing that this is a way to get over the stress. Unfortunately, most will chew food rather than gum most of the time.
Thus, chewing seems to be a nervous response triggered by an overactive amygdala to help us get over stress. Therefore, chronic stress (especially stress that you are used to and cope with very well) may be one of the reasons why you are constantly looking for food and overeating. Read on to find out what you can do to brake the cycle.
How can I eat less under stress?
The first and the easiest thing to do when you notice the urge to stress-eat is to sit down, close your eyes, and take 10 very deep inhalations, each of them followed by a very slow exhalation, all through the nose. This will calm down the nervous system and can even go as far as turning off the stress response completely. Your success at getting out of fight/flight will depend on your ability to fully focus on the breathing and turn off all external stimuli during the entire 10 breaths.
In fact, you can even go further than that and make this simple breathing exercise part of your daily routine. Whether you are feeling stressed or not, sit down twice a day to take 10 deep inhalations followed by 10 slow exhalations. You will be amazed at how much calmer and happier you can become.
Another thing that works really well is exercising. Take a brisk walk, do 10 star jumps, go to a zumba class or simply do a few push ups. Generally some form of cardio will work best. Yoga is another great way to bring down the stress. Yoga is also good for your posture and for detoxifying your body, among other things. Whatever form of physical exercise you choose (and as long as you don’t overdo it), it will help you get out of fight/flight. This can in turn reduce your desire to chew. Exercising also curbs your appetite in general. Here again consistency will give you far better results. Don’t wait until you are stressed! Regular workouts may be enough to prevent stress from occurring in the first place.
Supplementation can also help sometimes – vitamin B complex in combination with vitamin C is an excellent adrenal support which helps bring down the stress levels. The B vitamins also help increase metabolism and stabilize the blood sugar, which in turn can minimize sugar cravings and improve mood. But be aware that supplements are best avoided long term because they can tax the liver, the kidneys and the GI tract. Don’t use supplementation as a crutch – it cannot substitute the vitamins and minerals you can (and should) absorb from your food! Here are some foods rich in vitamin B: whole grains, beans and lentils, meat, eggs, fish, bananas, chilli peppers. Vitamin C can be found in most fresh fruit and vegetables. Bear in mind that your body can’t store B or C vitamins, so you need to have them everyday, preferably obtaining them from food!
Last but not least, BodyTalk offers some excellent techniques which help switch off the fight/flight mechanism and can bring you into the state of rest and repair. The BodyTalk Access program alone already offers two balances (the cortices and the switching technique) designed to do exactly that. So for those who are trained to do Access – by all means use it to help yourself through times of stress and compulsive eating. Of course some cases are much more complex and will require a full BodyTalk session to allow us to trace the causative factors and tap them out effectively.