April 16 is National Stress Awareness Day. Many of us, in an attempt to help manage stress, eat our favorite “comfort foods”, often to excess. Do such foods, however, actually offer meaningful and lasting solutions? In 1966, a Palm Beach Post article stated: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called, ‘comfort food’ — food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached eggs or famous chicken soup.” Over 50 years later, we appear as a society to still cope with questionable food choices.
If your daily stress has led to an unhealthy love affair with sugar, oil, bread, pasta, and cheese, you are not alone. Millions of Americans every year face chronic health challenges due to the seduction and immediate gratification of comfort foods. The Oxford Dictionary defines stress as, “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension, resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.” While society typically frowns on alcohol and illicit substances to relieve this strain and tension, more tolerance is usually offered for food addiction.
If one is able to occasionally enjoy comfort foods without guilt and in reasonable portions, then these foods may not be as problematic. Eating to excess while stressed, however, virtually guarantees the outcome of increased obesity around the abdomen. In addition to the abdominal fat-promoting stress hormone cortisol, the chemical “Neuropeptide Y” is released from nerve endings throughout the body during times of ongoing stress at work or at home. In scientific studies, Neuropeptide Y causes inflammation in fat cells and allows more fat cells to develop. The addition of 6,000 calorie eating binges featuring sugar and oil to mitigate stress in this setting leads to increased body fat as the fat cells fill up with our bad dietary choices.
Finding healthier ways to cope with stress such as exercise, meditation, yoga, reiki, and tai-chi may sound less tempting than macaroni and cheese, onion rings, or chocolate ice cream. As extra weight in the midsection of our bodies increases the risk for diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and other illness, it will become important for anyone using high volumes of comfort food as a significant coping tool to reassess the true value of such an approach. It may not be easy at first, but sharing a dysfunctional reliance on food to cope with someone you trust, such as a Health Coach, and working on solutions is a great way to start.
Dr. Aziz earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley, and his Medical Degree at St. George’s Univ. He trained in Psychiatry/Internal Medicine and researched Natural Killer cell function and stress. He’s Educational Dir. & Integrative Health Consultant at Creative Health Institute, helping people reach their wellness goals. 517-278-6260 Union City, MI