Written by: Galina Pembroke
The staggering numbers associated with obesity can be related to a number of factors. Though most obvious are improper diet and sedentary lifestyle, the connection between stress and overweight is becoming more and more apparent. .
FOR THOSE with an anxiety disorder, who number 1 in 10 of the western world’s population, controlling stress is a particularly significant factor in weight management. Along with the rest of us, those with anxiety disorders often choose to eat high-calorie comfort foods in an attempt to soothe their frayed nerves. “People who overeat in response to stressful situations are actually seeking comfort and control,” explains Dr. Michael Salamon, founder and director of the Adult Developmental Center in New York, US.
Rich, high-calorie foods temporarily calm us by releasing serotonin. Though there are other ways to boost serotonin in the brain (like exercise and laughter) grabbing a quick fix of carbohydrates is especially tempting and convenient for those wanting to immediately halt the discomfort of anxiety. The bodies of people with anxiety disorders or depression have an increased need for the sedating effects of serotonin, which is an essential ingredient in fighting both these disorders. So much so that many of the newer classes of antidepressants and anxiolytics (anxiety-relieving pills) – Paxil, Prozac, Celexa, Zoloft – work specifically with the brain’s serotonin levels. Classified as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) these medications ensure that serotonin stays trapped between neurotransmitters, instead of being transmitted and reabsorbed. This increases the levels of serotonin available to the brain.
Moderate exercise offers a “slimmer” alternative (or complement) to the serotonin boost of SSRIs. It is generally agreed that for weight loss to be healthy and long lasting, exercise must be combined with proper diet. For this to happen, most of us will need to re-evaluate our approach to weight loss. Unfortunately, many people with overweight problems struggle with a healthy self-image. Society gives us unreasonable, “supermodel” type images as a blueprint for ideals that almost no one can attain. Perfectionism is rampant among those with anxiety disorders. An alternative to this “all or nothing” mentality is the healthier “something is better than nothing” attitude. This thinking allows us to diet with confidence, and relieves some of the stress that may be the impetus for poor eating habits in the first place.
For those of us stress-eaters (with or without anxiety), dieting can feel like one additional stressor. Strict, regimented dieting that drastically reduces calories involves a considerable change in our daily routine. Regardless of the resulting weight loss, if this is an unpleasant change it may be hard to stick with the new routine. For permanent weight-loss to occur we need to be realistic and follow a program we can live with-after the diet is over.