Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Snacking as a comfort when feeling down: is this good or bad?

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Undeniably, most of us eat while we are stressed or emotionally low, maybe due to personal or professional reasons. But how healthy or unhealthy is it? We wonder! The Pioneer’s Shikha Duggal brings to you a detailed analysis of the same, as we connect with the experts.
SHIKHA DUGGAL
When we are angry or under stress, we always eat. With job and family obligations these days, that happens frequently! Don’t we feel awful about it afterward? Given how much we enjoy it, how can we stop? That is the main goal of this week’s health discussion! To put it simply, “emotional eating”. It’s like finding solace in snacks due to emotional stress. You’re not alone, though, since there are strategies to deal with the elevated emotional eating that many of us are currently feeling as a result of the current circumstances, from emotional nourishment to mindfulness.
In fact, according to a survey by the psychology-driven wellness and fitness platform Fitelo, 33% of women and 9% of men experience stress eating and lose sight of their health goals. In short, according to Mehakdeep (Mac) Singh, the dietician at Fitelo, “Your body goes through a series of reactions when you experience stress, which might result in stress eating. The primary stress response mechanism in your body, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, is activated when you experience a stressful event, setting off your body’s fight-or-flight reaction. This causes the hormone cortisol to be released, which stimulates desires and hunger, especially for “comfort foods” that are high in calories. As a result, consuming these foods might temporarily reduce tension, starting a vicious cycle in which stress prompts eating even when one is not truly hungry. As a result, poor eating habits may be adopted.” Stress eating is also characterised by eating more calories than the body requires, usually from high-calorie, low-nutrient meals, which eventually causes the body to have an excess of calories. As a result, extra calories are stored as fat and are commonly accumulated around the belly, increasing waist circumference and perhaps posing health hazards. “This increased hunger frequently results in desires for unhealthy foods, which in turn increases cravings for foods that are high in fat, sugar, or salt rather than those that are healthier. While binge eating entails ingesting a lot of food quickly, it also involves losing control while doing so. More severe than hunger or stress, binge eating can be a symptom of an eating disorder,” added the dietitian from the wellness platform mentioned above.
We want you to know that there are strategies to deal with stress eating, regardless of whether this is your first experience with it or whether it has become more common. More good news: You don’t have to give up your favourite snacks in order to do this! “The body may send signals for rapid energy sources to restore stockpiles, which frequently results in cravings for fatty or sugary foods. These foods may taste good and lift your spirits momentarily, but if you don’t control them, they might cause weight gain over time.”
Although stress eating is one of the elements that can impact obesity, it is not a decision. People who are under stress may turn to food as a consolation, which over time may lead to weight gain. We can comprehend a whole new perspective on the health issue, according to Garima Dev Verman of The Healthy Indian Project: “People who are already overweight or have high insulin levels may be more prone to stress-related weight gain. Furthermore, people who experience high cortisol levels in response to stress are more likely to snack in response to life’s daily obstacles.” Also, stress eating is not the same as binge eating. As to Garima’s enlightenment, “Binge eating is a form of eating disorder that is typified by frequent episodes of consuming substantial amounts of food within a brief timeframe, frequently coupled with emotions of being in control. In contrast to stress eating, which is brought on by emotions, binge eating episodes are usually caused by an obsessive need to consume, even in the face of signals of hunger or fullness. Feelings of guilt, humiliation, or sorrow are frequently experienced after binge-eating episodes. Binge eating is a more severe and compulsive behaviour linked with an eating disorder, whereas stress eating can happen as a coping mechanism for managing stress or unpleasant emotions. Both stress eating and binge eating entail ingesting food in reaction to emotional cues.” In a study, researchers examined the 12-week relationship between stress and weight in 71 healthy female nurses. They took measurements of the women’s BMI, levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and their level of anxiety related to eating. They discovered that stress, particularly during exams, increased cortisol and BMI levels as well as caused greater eating anxiety. Based on changes in weight, they separated the women into groups: some gained weight, others lost weight, and some did not change in weight. In contrast to individuals who lost weight, those who gained weight initially had higher BMIs and stress levels. According to the study, eating habits and stress management skills are important factors in weight fluctuations. Stress, particularly the cortisol reaction, is also a significant factor!
While some people have no trouble maintaining a stable weight, others find it difficult and frequently gain the weight back after dieting. It is still unknown why people who are fat could keep eating high-calorie diets even after learning about the health hazards, or why people who are anorexic might disregard hunger signals. These variations in weight management are probably caused by a confluence of environmental, psychological, and biological variables.
CASE STUDY:
Stress has been linked to weight gain in a number of instances. Many wellness platforms provide counselling to customers who have struggled with stress-related weight gain with the assistance of mind coaches. In addition, the same platforms assign yoga instructors to offer a comprehensive approach to weight loss and urge clients to stick to their diet programs that include cheat meals and simple-to-cook dishes! Furthermore, Fitelo discovered that eating habits and Indian behaviour, culture, social status, and emotional condition are strongly correlated across generations in their nationwide survey, The Condition of Your Plate, which involved 5000 participants. The analysis reveals:

lAlthough Gen Z and millennials advocate for healthy snacking, they often resort to binge-eating as a coping mechanism for their emotions and stress. Gatherings with family (57%), special occasions (44%), and stressful periods (35%) are the three most challenging periods that result in emotional eating.

lDue to stress from work, 23% of people find it difficult to manage their desires as Gen Z joins the workforce and millennials continue to combine work and life.
Surprisingly, compared to only 9% of men, 33% of women feel that family duties, particularly childcare, cause them to “stress-eat” and lose sight of their health goals. However, 35% of men stated that they are more inclined to stray from their health objectives when attending office parties.

How should one handle it?
lMindful eating: To prevent overindulging, pay attention to signs of hunger and fullness, eat gently, and taste your meal.
lStress management: You can lower your stress levels by practicing deep breathing, meditation, exercise, and getting enough sleep.
lSelect healthful snacks: Always have wholesome snacks available for when cravings for them arise. Select meals that are high in fiber, protein, and good fats.
lProfessional assistance: If stress or binge eating seem out of control, think about getting help from a therapist or medical professional.

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