HOW STRESS MAKES YOU FAT AND MEDITATION THERAPY CAN REVERSE THAT
These series of articles touch upon content of my recent book “meditation therapy training Goa”, written for everyone involved using meditation therapy for healing. Please join me on a journey of mind-body anatomy and physiology relevant to meditation therapy training Goa!
With love, Merel Martens – Founder Parimukti Meditation India
What happens with your appetite in a stressfull period?
Hormones from the adrenal glands interfere with the hormones that regulate the appetite. When this happens, some people lose all appetite and lose weight (about thirty percent of people); another group of people affected by this will increase their food intake and put on a good amount of weight during a stressful period (about seventy percent).
Studies show that cortisol stimulates hunger and food intake. So ‘threat stress’ usually leads to weight gain. People who usually restrain their food intake (to lose weight or maintain their posture) tend to eat more when feeling stressed. Also, when the ‘ego’ or self-image is shaken, overeating is common. We usually refer to this as emotional eating, which happens when people try to numb the pain of negative, self-focused emotion. Apart from this, we often choose food with more calories when in stressful situations. Evolutionarily speaking, a stressful situation means your life is in danger and so you should take calorie-rich food to give you a boost of energy so you can fight or take flight!
Unfortunately, in today’s world most foods high in calories contains white sugar, unsaturated fats and few nutrients. Also, taking into account the fact that we are surrounded by hidden messages such as, ‘Eat this ice cream and you will be as hot looking as I am’, or ‘Eat this delicious pizza and you’ll make friends for life; it’s no wonder that in a stressful, emotional period the choice of which foods to consume becomes skewed. It is not surprising that we are tempted to choose unhealthy foods to give instant feelings of so-called ‘happiness’.
HPA-axis and Opoids activate addiction
Remember the hypothalamus-pituitary- adrenal axis from my last blog? The relationship between the HPA-axis and opioids is interesting! The activation of the HPA-axis triggers the release of endogenous opioids. Opioids, in turn, negatively feed back on HPA-axis activity, thus dampening the stress response. So, rather than learning how to cope with stress by reflecting (through meditation), food intake becomes a powerful tool to shut down stress-induced HPA axis activation. If stress becomes chronic and eating is learned as an effective coping behavior, highly palatable food may appear to be ‘addictive’.
Identify your behavoir in response to stress!
In a therapeutic context it is paramount to identify our behavior in response to stress through practices of mindfulness, which you can teach your client. In a future event this person can then practice replacing the habitual behavioural response with a kind thought and another action. For example, going for a short walk instead of grabbing a bag of chips to dampen our feelings of anger, anxiety, irritation, etc.
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