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Curb Stress Eating (It doesn't go well with your body!)

Why Stress is a Killer

It's been a while since I felt the inspiration to write a blog post, thanks to the demon STRESS. Not sure what gets your panties in a bunch but for me, it's been: trying to find a new abode, trying to find a new job, trying to hold it together in the midst of all the glitches that inevitably littered the path with speed bumps. Make that speed hurdles.

While I've been attacking my training with a vengeance, thanks in part to the stress, it doesn't do much for my creative side though I finally came across an article that grabbed my interest and is worth expanding upon. Particularly during this time of year, with all the comfort eating and tendency to over-indulge in a slew of tantalizing, positively sinful foods, while we are giving thanks and counting our blessings, let's also try to remind ourselves that what we call the Holidays really just comes down to a couple of days. It doesn't need to turn into 60+ days (starting with Halloween) of forgoing workouts and engaging bad eating behavior with a declaration that the New Year will bring us back to our senses-and the start of another diet!

Some of us actually see the holiday season as a reason to put things off until the first of the new year. Try to make plans with someone and you'll inevitably hear a list of things preventing them from engaging in activity that isn't related to Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas. If you don't have children, this just doesn't fly and even then-really? That busy? Maybe it's just that people want to keep their options open for a better invitation-parties galore, unexpected visits from friends and relatives, or the ability to indulge without having to face judgment may be part of the normal holiday routine and it's too stressful to try to break the habit. This made me think of a phenomenon called 'Culture-Bound Syndrome' which, to quote Wikipedia, means the following:

A culture-specific syndrome is characterized by:

  1. Categorization as a disease in the culture (i.e., not a voluntary behavior or false claim);

  2. widespread familiarity in the culture;

  3. complete lack of familiarity or misunderstanding of the condition to people in other cultures;

  4. no objectively demonstrable biochemical or tissue abnormalities (signs);

  5. the condition is usually recognized and treated by the folk medicine of the culture.


The term culture-bound syndrome denotes recurrent, locality-specific patterns of aberrant behavior and troubling experience that may or may not be linked to a particular DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) diagnostic category. Many of these patterns are indigenously considered to be “illnesses,” or at least afflictions, and most have local names. Although presentations conforming to the major DSM-IV categories can be found throughout the world, the particular symptoms, course, and social response are very often influenced by local cultural factors. In contrast, culture-bound syndromes are generally limited to specific societies or culture areas and are localized, folk, diagnostic categories that frame coherent meanings for certain repetitive, patterned, and troubling sets of experiences and observations (end Wikipedia reference).

It is interesting to note that chronic Candida, leaky-gut, electromagnetic sensitivity and gluten sensitivity all fall into this CBS category. These syndromes often have many generalized symptoms, are approached with a variety of treatments and often with varying degrees of success. It's even been hypothesized that patients diagnosed with these conditions report higher levels of perceived stress, pain, and depressive symptoms, and lower levels of quality of life compared with national norms. Per provider reports, 60% of patients had at least one of the following: stress (9.3%), fatigue (10.2%), anxiety (7.7%), depression (7.2%), and/or sleep disorders (4.8%). Pain, having both physiological and psychological components, was also included and is the most common condition treated at Integrative Medicine clinics. In the United States, several of the above mentioned syndromes are directly related to the food supply. Gluten sensitivity may be due in large part to GMO's (thank you once again Monsanto) and the inclusion of Round-up as part of chemically coded DNA modified seeds for growing wheat. As GMO's are banned in many countries around the world-except the United States-you may have no problem at all eating gluten while traveling outside of the US.

To get a better example of CBS, let's look at Japan and the condition known as 'Fan Death.' This is what can occur when using an electric fan, believed to cause asphyxia and suffocation. Theories about this phenomenon blame the government and the hope to create energy conservation. I think it may also be that the Fan Dance was once something many people traveling to the country would pay to see done by the Geisha. This took years of training to be done properly and as the Geisha died out, not only was this tourist draw drastically reduced, think of all the fans sitting around in manufacturer's storage facilities gathering dust-such a waste! Anyone who knows the Japanese culture knows they despise waste (a very good quality) and a surplus stockpile of fans is definitely a waste. The introduction of electric fans pretty much negated the need for them while also furthering the elimination of traditional customs like the Fan Dance. However, Fan Death is unheard of anywhere else and in America, we find it a silly superstition with absolutely zero validity. Particularly if you live in the hot and humid climes, like Florida, where we would positively die without fans.

Life can bring on the stress, this much is true. Having lived and traveled around Florida for many years, I think CBS pertaining to stress varies not only between cultures and countries but even from county-to-county. For example, if you live in Palm Beach county, the wealthiest enclave in the world (along with Dubai), stress means having to be second in line -anywhere- as the entitlement factor mindset in this community is very much a real thing. In Miami/Dade, and much of south Florida, stress is being an English-speaking born- and-raised American citizen and not speaking Spanish. Aside from the fight-or-flight response, also known as the acute stress response, our reaction to stress is not always accurate, nor is our perception of it, as one man's stress could be another man's high (skydiving, for example). The physiological reaction of an increase in heart rate, tense body, blood pressure elevation, sweating and fast breathing (whether the threat is real or imaginary), while triggered by the sympathetic nervous system, requires a cool head to quickly decipher the best course of action to cope effectively with an identified crisis. As we make advances in medicine, science and technology, our lives become easier in many ways and our interpretation of stress changes along with this. Millions are still faced with the stress of not having enough to eat while millions more turn to comfort foods when faced with stress.

When trying to curb the reaction to impulse react to stress, especially if stress-eating is your go-to response, you may want to practice a time-out, typically administered to children by the 'at-wits-end' parent. Allow yourself 5 full minutes to think about the best course of action. If initially this time is spent relishing the thought of how good your comfort food will taste, remind yourself that it is an extremely short-lived high and that the aftermath of guilt and excess calories carry a big price tag to your health and self-esteem. This doesn't mean that you can't have something to eat but it would be best to be calm and in a relaxed frame of mind before noshing or you will just reinforce stress eating, making it harder to break the pattern with every indulgence episode. There are healthier alternatives to choose from that may actually quell the desire to raid the refrigerator or pantry with unbridled abandon. Give these a try next time you feel like you're on the edge:

1. Cinnamon. This spice can be added to almost anything with amazing results, and is clinically PROVEN to keep insulin levels in check. Cereal, tea, coffee, fruit, yogurt, chili, cottage cheese, smoothies, chia seed pudding-so many uses, so little time! This is one of my favorites because of its natural sweetness and ability to kick a sweet-tooth craving in the butt.

2. Instead of a high-carb, sugary, processed vending machine/fast-food quick fix, try a snack with fiber, healthy fat and protein, like avocado on a toasted pumpernickel bagel. Check the stats on this amazing bagel below:

Here you're getting a healthy dose of complex carbohydrate, also triggering the neurotransmitter serotinin in the brain-the feel good without the guilt!

3. Get up and move. If you can take a 10-15 minute walk, or even do a few flights of stairs, this can give you time to change your thought process as well as make you feel better with a small dose of endorphins. It's also been clinically proven that movement can curb the desire for simple carbs, like sugar, in particular.

4. I love the HOT BATH. If you're able, do this and include some epsom salts with lavender essential oil. Very soothing and ask Pandora for some nature tracks to complete the Zen vibe. Clear your mind and meditate on what you need to truly feel better long term, not just the few moments of pleasure extracted from a binge fest.

5. Keep yourself busy. Maybe journal the stress event and write it out of your system. You may just find that you were overreacting and will be better equipped the next time there's an apparent crap storm. I often turn to blogging or crochet.

If none of this helps, you can do like I did recently when faced with the stress of a burst pipe in the wall caused by trying to disconnect a rusted-in-place hot water hose for the washing machine, with no idea where the water main shut-off was and a rapidly rising water level in my new apartment. On move-in day. With all the heavy boxes on the floor. Yell for "Help!" as loud as you can and swear like a sailor. The fight-or-flight response definitely kicked into high gear, as those heavy boxes that required 3 big men to move were suddenly one under each of my arms as I scrambled to move them to higher ground, while using a dust pan pinched between my toes to push water away from the living room and out the sliding glass doors I'd opened in hopes that it would create some kind of suction and the water would just move like a river out the door. The chaos that occurred in the 10 minutes it took to find the shut-off -while that happened almost 3 weeks ago- is still wreaking havoc. So, when the yelling and swearing weren't effective, I just cried. Yes, I felt like a total Nancy (sorry Nancy!) but at least I didn't do something that I would have trouble facing myself over in the morning. Oh wait...I did have trouble facing myself because when Nancy cries, it's a full-blown spectacle and the next morning my eyes were so puffy it was like trying to see through the eye of a needle, like a Barbie-sized needle.

I'm kinda sorta getting to the place where I can laugh about the whole incident, as I remind myself that this too shall pass and that it is only as bad as I want it to become. So much of our 'perceived' stress in life is like this, if we truly break it down into the grand scheme of things and what truly matters in life. The trick is to get to that point in a heartbeat, and not the ones created by the sympathetic nervous system!

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