Have you heard of “Stress Fat?” It is belly fat due to stress. Maybe you picked up some comfort food after a long stressful day. Maybe you packed into that pint of ice cream after a relationship disaster. Maybe a few beers is how you “decompress” from the stress of work. After a few years you notice your belly is growing. You feel tired. “Must be the stress,” you think.
Don’t confuse your stress with hunger! That tightness and undesirable rumblings in your gut are your body’s physical stress reaction. This is the same system that causes “butterflies in your stomach” before a performance. We tend to confuse this feeling with true hunger--where your stomach has been empty and insists that you fill it. That is why we are attracted to fatty comfort foods--our body knows they take the longest to process. If you feel like you have to eat, pre-measure a small portion of your favorite comfort food, and stop there. But try to avoid foods with sugar--the sugar tends to increase your cravings an hour later when the rush is gone.
Tackle stress by exercising your heart and mind, not your stomach. There are many proven options to help your body physically deal with stress much more directly.
The automatic stress reaction is your primitive brain recognizing a threat, and gearing up your emotional response so it doesn’t get in the way of fighting/fleeing. But simply suppressing or ignoring those emotions can make your stress reaction long term. Instead, take out those emotions in physical activity (but not on your co-workers or family!). Share those emotions with your friends and loved ones. Let them go; your body will thank you.
Eating poorly in reaction to stress creates a vicious circle, because bad diet itself is stressful to your body. Eating crap makes you feel like crap plus your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs. That makes you very sensitive to stress. You don’t have to have a perfect diet. There are moderate, sensible changes that pick the low-hanging fruit; for instance, boosting fruits and veggies and cutting back sugar. Gut Guide 101 is a great book that both educates and provides an easy three week roadmap to feeling and eating better. Like a personal trainer will make sure you do your gym workouts, a health coach can help you make a sensible diet change really stick so you get the results you want, handle stress better and feel your best.
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