What's Your Stress Reflex?

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Stress Reflex #2: "I Can't Stop Eating"

When under stress do you...

__ Overdose on bread and pasta?

__ Crave potato chips and chocolate?

__ Realize you've polished off a box of cookies and barely remember eating it?

You're not alone. One in three American women agree with the statement "when I am feeling down or facing a problem, I turn to food to feel better," according to a recent American Psychological Association survey on stress. "Eating carbs during times of stress increases levels of the stress-reducing chemical serotonin," says Judith Wurtman, PhD, coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet. "As long as we eat small amounts of low- or zero-fat carbs, we will feel better -- and not gain weight." But if we eat too much we may pack on pounds and then feel worse.

Stress Solutions

Keep but tweak: Choose smarter sweets and carbs
You don't have to deny yourself food indulgences because they do help regulate stress hormones; instead of refined carbs, however, opt for whole grains. And whatever you're eating, eat it slowly. You'll ingest fewer calories and feel fuller if you let your brain register satiety. Dr. Wurtman says that eating carbs on their own, without protein or fat, will allow the body to get tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin, to the brain more quickly. That means you will get more mood-boosting benefits from eating a baked potato than from eating french fries.

Instead try: Indulging your other senses
Because the parts of your brain that process taste and smell interact closely, fragrances can help to soothe your urge to eat if that urge stems from emotion and not hunger. After all, your sense of smell is reportedly 10,000 times more sensitive than your sense of taste -- and whiffing contains no calories. A scented bath combines the overall soothing effect of a warm soak with a sensory indulgence that squashes stress. "Use essential oils, not perfumes," advises Wendy Warner, MD, president of the American Board of Holistic Medicine.

 
Continued on page 4:  Stress Reflex #3: "I Bottle It Up"

 

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