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Why dealing with stress can help you eat less

Comfort food. Stress eating. Whatever you call it, problems can arise if you use food to soothe your feelings

Do you ever feel comforted by eating a late-night sandwich or a slice of pie? Most people do admit they indulge occasionally.

Food brings us a lot of pleasure. 

Problems can arise, however, if we use food to soothe our feelings of stress. The scales start to go up. 

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Dealing with stress productively is a better idea. Once we connect overeating with our emotional factors, we can change things for the better. We can spend more time reading, talking with friends, or exercising so we feel emotionally "full." 

"When I moved from the city to the suburbs, I put on 15 pounds the first six months," says an executive assistant we'll call Regina. Regina's husband travels a lot, so she's home by herself when she's not working. 

"I attribute my weight gain to the stress of being bored and lonely," she explains further. "Using food for comfort is the same as using drugs or alcohol. We hate feelings of discomfort, so we try to smooth them over. A couple of pieces of pizza or a bowl of ice cream works wonders." 

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To calm your appetite, it pays to review what's irritating you. These tips can help: 

  • Ask if a relationship problem is affecting your emotions. A breakup with a boyfriend or a quarrel with a co-worker can stress you to the max. 
  • Ask if your lifestyle needs some changes. A grandmother we know, who is only 48, says she started overeating because she volunteered for too much babysitting. She cut back exercising to one day a week. Last month, however, she purchased a treadmill to use in front of the TV. 
  • Decide how to productively address stress. For example, if you're skipping exercise after work to swing by a drive-through for a hot chocolate with whipped cream, force yourself to stop at the gym too. Learn to balance extra calories with a decent workout. 

"When I fell in love twenty years ago, I was so happy that my appetite disappeared," laughs a friend of ours we'll call Rita. "When I got divorced last year, I was so stressed I wanted five meals a day!" 

Once you connect your overeating with stress, take a look at good solutions to calm your chaotic feelings. Try some harmless ways to feel good. For example, go to a walk-in movie with friends on weekends, take a long walk with someone you enjoy talking with, or plan a short trip to a museum in your region. 

» What is stress and how to overcome it 

Filling up your emotional bank account can help curb food cravings. 

An attorney friend of ours, who we'll call Kevin, says he tries to balance two hard days of work with having a lighter schedule on the third day. "I usually take a long drive in the country every third day. Or, I'll attend a ball game or have dinner with a friend." 

Kevin says; too much self-sacrifice will destroy enthusiasm for life. "I've seen too many lawyers who've lost their passion because they pushed themselves way too hard," he emphasizes. 

"Taking care of your emotional needs includes eating well, however," says a fitness coach we'll call Laura. "Drinking plenty of water and taking vitamins will help prevent overeating as well. We all eat twice as much if we are dehydrated or we aren't getting enough vitamins and minerals." 

Seeking balance means making subtle adjustments in our food choices, habits, and approach to life. Whatever is stressing you must be managed in doable steps.

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