Sunday, September 03, 2006

Stress eating and Bree Vandecamp

Stress eating, mmmmm

So I asked my favorite consultant, the one who lives with me, the genius, I asked,

Genius Doc? Why do people stress eat?

Tastes good, he said.

No, seriously, why?

He said that we eat when we're down or when we're anxious because:

The actual physical sensation of eating, the sheer pleasure simply drives us to it. Like a mouse to cocaine. That's my analogy, the mouse to cocaine.

If you haven't seen the psychology videos on mice and cocaine you haven't lived. The mouse chooses the coke over cheese and eats it until he dies.

This is a plausible theory, for sure. Feel bad. Eat. Feel good. Immediate gratification.

The only problem with that is that it puts food into the addictions, the things we do compulsively for immediate gratification.

Sigh. And I thought I could just nibble and it wasn't such a pathological thing.

In Genius Doc's favor, he also laid out a brilliant piece on estrogen and women and how our bodies store rather than metabolize fat because they want to get us ready to feed a fetus if there's a drought.

Makes a lot of sense, too.

I'm going to offer yet another theory and will throw in the intervention for free. The idea is to help a people, gender is immaterial, to stop using the mouth as a way to control stress.

It's a cognitive-behavioral strategy.

Cognitive-behavioral strategies require thinking before doing.

Cognitive therapists (and who isn't one these days) suggest staying in the moment, countering negative thinking, changing one's world right now to defocus from pain and things that trigger negative feelings.

It's not that talking about the past doesn't help, it just may not be as effective, or so says the National Institute of Mental Health.

Ranting, blaming, and obsessing in therapy about our spouses, or how a sibling got more attention, or how other family of origin dynamics contributed to our "issues" and neuroses has a time and a place.

Stress eating probably won't stop, however, unless something gets between memory lane and the refrigerator.

And you know you want the quick fix. You know you do.

It's all about staying in the moment, challenging negative thoughts, assessing how you feel physically, DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

Yes, perhaps I am simplifying too much, but I'm responding to readers who have requested that I dumb this blog a tad, to simplify like I promised to do in my "about."

Fine. Here's the real scoop on stress eating.

It DOES calm anxious people down physiologically for a very simple physiological reason. It takes energy to digest food.

Say Suzie is a real hyper-secreter, meaning her stomach juices get going when her adrenaline gets pumpin. Or, simply put, she knows that she's easily an easily agitated, nervous type of person.

When we're anxious the arousal system in the brain works in sync with the adrenal glands to pump more adrenaline. The process makes us feel zippy, not necessarily comfortable zippy, however. We interpret this nervous system arousal as "anxiety" or "stress," rather than simply, "extra energy," which it is.

If Suzie is a coffee drinker then she's adding even more speed to the mix. Add a real problem, like job loss, marital stress, whatever, to the brew and it IS stress.

But if Susie eats, the food sits in her belly and requires all of her free-floating energy to digest it. She eats, she feels better. Some of her adrenaline is tied up for a long time digesting the Ben and Jerry's.

That's why some moms, not just Jewish mom, will push food on their kids when they sense they're upset. Sit down, have a cookie, we'll talk. We learn to eat when stressed from our parents. Some of us learn to drink. We still choose to make that consumptive decision at the end of the day, whatever it is.

If Suzie has a cognitive therapist she'll be told to be in touch with her anxiety and will be taught a few self-relaxation exercises, particularly muscle contraction (if it were me, no question). Jogging's good too, so are sit-ups or simply holding the body in a push-up position until you have to drop down to rest.

These exercises literally burn off the adrenaline; they use the extra energy productively. I even recommend doing laundry or the types of busy things Bree Vandecamps does on Desperate Housewives to burn off the steam.

You only get to watch TV, btw, if you're exercising, at least stretching. You knew that, right?

But what about depression? People definitely are drawn to the cup board when they're feeling down. Why do people eat when they're depressed? They're not cooling down, they're already down.

In that case, honest, I'm betting on Genius Doc's answer.

Tastes good.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


katiebird said...

Hi Linda,
This is a very interesting post. You've inspired my post for tomorrow. (let me know if you'd like me to send you a draft).

Therapy Doc said...

Sure, glad you liked it.

Anonymous said...

Yep, tastes good. :)

I don't drink or do drugs, don't gamble, don't cheat on my husband. Of course I have many pleasures in my life, and food is not the greatest one. But it is the most reliable. Most other pleasures, I have to be in the mood for. Reading, painting, cuddling, socializing, going for a stroll, listening to music, watching a movie, playing a game. All better than food, but nowhere near as reliable. I suppose if I did drugs they'd trump food, but I don't plan to find out.

Maha said...

Oh dear nothing calms me down after a nightmare shift than a nice cup of hot chocolate and carrot cake &/or a big platter of Indian food. Working out would probably be better for me but my legs and feet are too tired. And food tastes good :D

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