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Stress Can Make You Fat

“Stressed” Spelled Backward Is “Desserts”

Lean Lingo

Serotonin is a natural neurotransmitter in the brain that lifts mood. When we eat highly starchy foods such as cakes, cookies, bagels, and chips, more serotonin is released into the brain, and we feel soothed. Stress soothers are positive, inspiring, and uplifting alternatives to use when you're tempted to eat to soothe stress.

In times of anxiety, sadness, boredom, or nervousness, an overeater traipses off to the kitchen. The foods in the pantry or refrigerator seem to offer instant relief. She indulges her need for the pastries, cakes, cookies, crackers, and other yummy starches that will take away the bad feelings.

For someone with a weight issue, stress and eating usually go together like cream cheese on a bagel. They seem meant for each other. You wouldn't believe how many “confessions” we've heard about eating an entire bag of cookies or a carton of ice cream to soothe stress!

Those who don't seek out food when stressed cannot understand this habit. They listen to music, take a walk, or call a friend when they're out of sorts. But eat snack foods? “Why would I do that?” they ask. If you're a stress eater, however, you're probably right now shaking your head in disbelief that not everyone tries to eat away their blues.

Ever wonder why you don't gobble up steak and green beans at stressful moments? Because they don't work. They are just plain ordinary food. For most of us, steak and green beans don't have that magic something that elevates mood and temporarily anesthetizes the eater.

Starches like cookies, cakes, and crackers are definitely mood elevators, and they counteract the depressing effect cortisol has on brain neurotransmitters. They increase serotonin levels in the brain, chemically altering a person's mood and giving the eater a lift. In a sense, eating starches is not a bad choice when you are having a bad moment. Starches work. They make you feel better and are cheap. What's not to like? The answer: what they do to your body and self-esteem. They will make you gain weight when you overeat them.

Beating the Blues without Feeding Your Face

Breaking the bad mood-munchies cycle is relatively easy after you find a great alternative to relieve stress. In surveying hundreds of overweight people about what works for them to soothe their anxieties and depression blues, we've come up with a list of excellent alternatives. The criteria for acceptance into our Stress Soothers Hall of Fame were demanding.

Stress soothers had to be all of the following: legal, inexpensive, accessible (able to do at the office or simply by ducking into the nearest bathroom), nonfattening, positive, inspiring, uplifting, practical, realistic, quick, and solitary (can be done by yourself).

The suggestions that didn't make the Stress Soothers Hall of Fame were meditation and jogging. Meditation is a great idea, but it's not practical for most people at the moment of frantically needing to soothe stress. But if you meditate regularly, go for it. And jogging works great if you don't have small children at home, but typically is not what a stress eater would do or would want to do. But if you do love to jog, put your shoes on and go banish your stress.

The key to a good stress soother is that it redirects your interests away from the kitchen while it provides you with relaxation and a reduction in cortisol stress levels.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Healthy Weight Loss © 2005 by Lucy Beale and Sandy G. Couvillon. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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