When stress eating leads to love handles

Emotional eating as the cause of obesity.

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iStock.com/YakobchukOlena

Love handles and stress eating are now things of the past. Today we use the term emotional eating to describe people using food to positively influence their mood. But no matter how we describe eating food to help deal with sorrow and stress, it can contribute considerably to overweight. Specialists recommend therefore that we should be consciously aware of the relationship between emotions and eating.

The day is grey and your mood is grey as well; a piece of chocolate or a bite of your favourite candy is just the thing to brighten things up. There is nothing wrong with this if it stays that way and does not happen too often. But all too often, and before you know it, the whole chocolate bar has disappeared, or the bag of jelly babies is empty. It is possible that the person who is frustrated feels better afterwards. However, if you use this kind of therapy often when you are down in the dumps, the blues will quickly be joined by another problem: excess pounds. And in most cases, this does not help in any way to improve your personal well-being.

Eating to combat frustration is often followed by a bad conscience. This is because the comforters, like chocolate, are often packed full of calories. Nutritionists say this is due to the consumption in particular of carbohydrates, fat and sugar increasing the serotonin level in the body. This nerve messenger, which scientists call a neurotransmitter, is now widely referred to as the ‘happiness hormone’. That is because serotonin creates a balanced, positive mood and acts as a buffer against stress.

Experts argue, though, that if someone is moping or in a bad mood, they would have to consume very large amounts of chocolate or even bananas, which should also improve low serotonin levels, to achieve the desired improvement. But how does chocolate work when someone has got the blues? It has a threefold effect: firstly, it does indeed raise the serotonin level, secondly the sugar provides energy and thirdly there is a comfortable feeling of being full after eating a certain amount of a sweet treat. It is not for nothing that we speak of a feeling of being full and satisfied.

Stress promotes appetite

Science has already dealt extensively with the connection between emotions and eating behaviour or overweight. It is therefore clear to experts that mental stress often triggers a desire to eat. Eating as consolation for sorrow, to mitigate fears and worries, or as compensation for pressure at work all fall into the ‘emotional eating’ category. And eating in such a way without really being hungry is often diagnosed as a major cause of overweight.

Furthermore, in many cases we have learned to comfort or reward ourselves with food. Who doesn’t remember being comforted as a child with candy after an injury or being rewarded with a favourite meal for a special achievement? And as adults, people apply this principle to themselves in a figurative sense – in the form of emotional eating!

That is why experts recommend people not to reproach themselves every time as long as this behaviour does not become the rule – and manifest itself negatively in the form of excess kilos. For the experts, it is okay for people to use a treat to get over feeling down – provided it does not involve consuming several bars of chocolate or similar quantities of fattening foods. Maybe people should try an Almased drink instead, because it will also give them new energy and boost their well-being with its valuable ingredients, but without making them fat – on the contrary, it will help them slim. And this can also boost their spirits.

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