Thursday, March 19, 2015

Carrots or cookies

When I was a kid, my mother taught me a lesson about appetites and hunger. An hour before dinner, when I asked her for a snack, she offered me carrots.

“But I’m not hungry for carrots,” I whined, “I’m hungry for a cookie.”

She replied, “If you’re not hungry for carrots then you’re not really hungry.”

Now that I am all grown up, I know eating a cookie an hour before dinner will spoil my appetite. But why do I want one?

My answer is stress.

Stress is my reaction to life’s demands. It results in me staring at the ceiling at 2 a.m. or renders me unable to recall the words “paper towel” in a conversation or instigates my yelling at the toaster when the bagel gets stuck.

Stress impacts food choices, too. According to studies cited by Purdue University’s Student Wellness Office, high levels of stress can cause us to lose our restraint.

A study of 212 men and women found that when they were stressed, 73 percent reported eating more snack-type foods, 48 percent reported eating “more than usual” amounts of cake and cookies, and 29 percent reported eating “less than usual” amounts of fruits and vegetables.

What drives us to make poor food choices during times of stress? According to Purdue’s wellness office, it’s the difference between emotional and physical hunger.

Its primer for college students indicates that physical hunger comes on gradually. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.

With physical hunger you are open to eating different types of foods. Oftentimes with emotional hunger you crave a specific food (in my case, potato chips, chardonnay or cookies).

With physical hunger you’re more likely to stop eating when you’re full. With emotional eating you keep eating even though you are full (like that bag of chips that somehow becomes empty in one sitting).

And most important, emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt, while physical eating does not. (Why, why, why did I eat that whole bag of chips?)

My mother knew that I wanted that cookie out of boredom— emotional eating versus physical hunger.

Why would Purdue University be communicating the difference between emotional and physical hunger to its students?

Emotional hunger is where “the freshman 15” comes in— when college students pack on an extra 10 or 15 pounds during their freshman year of college.

That’s when they experience stress through a new environment, new relationships and new challenges.

The body’s reaction to stress is to eat foods that are bad for us.

Caregivers can experience emotional hunger due to chronic stress. Chronic stress occurs when our everyday stressors are ignored or not managed well.

Family caregivers dealing with the personal hygiene of a loved one often experience chronic stress, as do adult children who are sandwiched between caring for aging parents and growing children, and spouses caring for a husband or wife with dementia.

With plenty of other things to worry about, caregivers don’t feel they have the time to make the lifestyle changes necessary to reduce their stress.

If you are a caregiver who is having difficulty managing everyday stressors, mark your calendar for two events.

The first is Tues., April 28, “The Importance of Self-Care,” and the second is Tues., May 19, “Optimal Nutrition for Caregivers During Challenging Times.”

Both are offered from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Senior Concerns, 401 Hodencamp Road, Thousand Oaks. Advance reservations and a $10 donation are requested. Call (805) 497-0189 to make a reservation.

Taking even one small step to reduce your stress and improve your emotional health can have a beneficial effect. In addition to attending these events, eat some extra fruits and vegetables.

Even if you are not a caregiver you’ll feel better.

And just to let you know that I heed my own advice, my husband and I had green beans after happy hour the other night.

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Tags: emotional eating and stress

Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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