|Eating unhealthy tied to stress and seeking pleasure|
|Written by Renee Changnon, Daily Vidette Reporte,r|
|Wednesday, 26 January 2011 01:09|
The day is over and the stress level has hit its peak. For many individuals, when feeling stressed, lonely, bored or a combination of different emotions, the relief needed is just a bite away.
Emotional eating is a behavior that is in no way new. However, this type of eating can have many negative and detrimental side effects in the long run.
The habits of those who tend to choose the less healthy food options has been studied and researched, bringing to light the root of the problem of emotional eating.
According to H. Tak Cheung, director emeritus for the School of Biological Sciences, studies have found that those under stress tend to eat more comforting foods, like sweets.
“We like to eat sweet things because it gives us a reward. The reward actually occurs in our brain, a part of the brain called the pleasure center,” Cheung explained.
As stress levels can change and reenter our lives depending on the day, what is it about food that makes it a constant comfort to the stressed individuals?
“Once the [pleasure center in] the brain is stimulated, it reinforces the behavior, so we want to repeat that behavior because it’s pleasurable,” Cheung said.
When people realize that eating while stressed or while experiencing any other of their many emotions is repeated on purpose, the emphasis turns to finding ways to change and alter those behaviors.
According to Dianne Feasley, assistant director of Campus Dining Services, making a point to realize the difference between actual hunger and pure emotions is key to making the change.
“If a person finds him or herself reaching for food, at least ask the question, ‘am I hungry?’ If the answer is yes, then eat something. If the answer is no, then ask, ‘what do I need, what am I feeling?’” she said.
Feasley explained that when one has options, including talking to someone or finding a stress relieving outlet outside of food, then emotional eating can be avoided.
“Sometimes you just want to eat even if you aren’t hungry; that’s alright sometimes but not if it happens frequently,” Feasley said.
While it has been found that sugary foods aid in comforting a stressed individual, there are other reasons why people instinctively seek sweets.
“We all like sweet things because sugar gives you energy. We have evolved to have a sweet tooth because [of] early evolutionary times,” Cheung said.
When those who tend to eat emotionally try to stop, they may encounter problems in the long run, Feasley warned.
“After restricting sweets or chocolate, a person often overeats them once they give in to a craving. Some individuals may eat a cookie, feel guilty and declare it a ‘bad day’,” Feasley said. “Allowing yourself to eat a cookie when you really want one can often reduce the urge to eat several cookies at one sitting.”
In addition to avoiding quitting emotional eating altogether, people must realize the ways in which they eat are a part of life.
“There is nothing wrong [with emotional eating]. Eating is an emotional thing. You just have to put yourself in an environment when you do need that emotional crutch to lean on, you lean on something good,” Cheung said.
As students work to find the balance between eating for hunger and emotion, Feasley says it is vital to find that happy medium.
“Simple advice, listen to your body: eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full,” she said.