How to Stop Office Stress from Making You Fat

Depending on how you react to stress, it can make you gain or lose weight. Dr. Pamela Peeke, a stress and nutrition researcher, says that people have three different eating responses to stress. Stress-resilient people respond by exercising or meditating. Stress over-eaters turn to food while stress under-eaters lose their appetite.

It also depends on the kind of stress you are undergoing. In general, acute stress like the death of a loved one or a major disaster like an earthquake will make people lose their appetite. Chronic stress, meaning a prolonged stressful situation like hating your job but not having the courage to leave it, usually increases the appetite particularly for sweet and fatty food.

To stop office stress from making you fat, you have to do three things: Be aware of how stress affects your health and weight, reduce unnecessary stress, and learn to deal in non-food ways with the stress you can't get rid of.

Being aware of the problem is always the first step in finding the solution. Once you understand that over-eating is both a physiological and psychological response to stress, you will be better equipped with the right mental attitude to find the solutions appropriate for you.

We cannot completely eliminate stress from our lives. In fact, it would not be beneficial to do so. For example, deadlines are a necessary evil that motivate us to finish projects. Hardly anything would be accomplished without the threat of a deadline looming over us. However, some of the stress in our life is unnecessary and of our own doing. We create our own stress by taking on too many commitments, procrastinating, not planning, not delegating, making mountains out of molehills, and worrying about things we can't control.

So identify the stress in your life and distinguish between the stress you cannot get rid of and the unnecessary stress that is within your power to change. Now, you are ready for some practical suggestions to deal with stressful overeating.

Exercise attacks stress-related weight gain in two ways. First, it relieves anxiety and tension. The less stressed you feel, the less likely you are to overeat. Second, if you do overeat, exercise will help in damage control by burning off some of the calories.

There are several theories why exercise is, as Peeke calls it, the ultimate stress neutralizer. It gives people a sense of mastery or control that is empowering. Exercise provides a distraction or diversion from anxiety-provoking thoughts. It is a form of meditation that relieves depression and anxiety. It enhances a person's ability to adapt and cope with the environment. Exercise may improve mood through biochemical processes by quickly getting rid of stress-related hormones. Whatever the reason may be, exercise is an important weapon in fighting stress and the weight gain associated with it.

If you can carve out time to exercise before or after work, it will be one of the best investments you can make for your health and weight. If this is impossible, you can still exercise by doing ten to fifteen minute sessions throughout the day. The goal is to accumulate 30 to 60 minutes every day.

You can walk briskly, climb stairs, and do muscle toning or stretching exercises (keep dumbbells, ankle weights, or rubber bands underneath your desk at work). This method can be just as effective at keeping you in shape as going to the gym. However, to be successful, you have to keep track of how much exercise you are actually doing. Keep a logbook and document how much exercise time you accumulate daily.

A pedometer, a small device that you attach to your waistband or belt, is an easy way to count how many steps you have walked that day. Aim for ten to fifteen thousand steps. Pedometers are available at local sports stores.

Do not skip meals.
Many people set themselves up for weight gain by not eating properly. Skipping meals and dieting by eating miniscule amounts are self-defeating because the body perceives these strategies as stressful and will actually produce more cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers an increase in appetite.

Avoid stress-induced eating during the "CortiZone".
Peeke calls the hours between 3 p.m. and midnight the "CortiZone" because this is when people tend to overeat the most because of stress. To avoid this trap, she offers several strategies from her book, Fight Fat after Forty.

· At each of your three main meals, eat a combination of healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Healthy carbs are vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice). Unhealthy sources are refined carbohydrates made of white flour and sugar. Choose lean animal protein sources and/or vegetable protein like tofu, nuts, and seeds. Healthy fat comes from vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
· If you eat breakfast before 8 a.m. and won't be eating lunch until 12:20 or 1 p.m., have a mid-morning snack made primarily of protein (yogurt, cottage cheese, tuna). You can also have a piece of fruit with it.
· Eat a mid-afternoon snack three hours after lunch to prevent a dip in blood sugar levels. Go for a combination of protein, carbohydrates and some fat. An example would be a piece of whole-wheat toast with peanut butter.
· Avoid snacks made completely of refined carbohydrates like white bread, cookies, bagels, and muffins because these kinds of food can make you hungrier and craving for more carbohydrates two hours later.
· Eat the majority of your total calories (at least 65%) before 5 p.m. Many people, especially women, tend to "diet" in the morning and then consume most of their calories in the hours of the CortiZone. Studies show that people who skip breakfast tend to overeat later on in the day and into the night.
· Eat dinner before 8 p.m. and at least two hours before sleeping.

Low Calorie Munching.
Some people cope with stress with "oral" behavior like chewing, smoking, and biting nails. If you are a chewer, raw vegetables are your best bet. They keep your mouth busy without racking up the calories. They are crunchy, high in fiber and water, and are loaded with nutrients. Good choices to bring to the office are cucumbers, carrots, singkamas, celery, green or yellow bell peppers, sweet white onions, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. Another good alternative is pumpkin or watermelon seeds. You don't eat much because you spend a lot of time having to crack the seeds. Make sure to get the unsalted variety because too much salt will just make you retain water and feel bloated.
Dried or fresh fruits are healthy but are not good for mindless chewing since their high sugar content can quickly pile on the calories.
You might also want to try sipping warm beverages like herbal tea or water with a little lemon. I find this strategy soothing and an additional benefit is that I can easily make sure I get enough fluid for my daily needs.

Replace "comfort food" with "comfort behavior".
If your mother or yaya constantly gave you food to stop you from crying or feeling sad, then you have been conditioned since childhood to eat your way out of stressful situations. You can change this behavioral response by consciously using non-food ways to comfort you. Before you automatically reach out for chips, sweets, and other fattening treats at the office, try taking a five-minute stretch break to relieve tension in your neck, shoulders, and lower back. Take a mini-meditation break by sitting quietly in your chair with your eyes closed and focus on the sound and feel of your breath. You will be surprised at how effective these simple techniques are at taking your mind off your stress and problems. True, they only bring temporary relief but done on a regular basis, they are very helpful in releasing stress before it has a chance to build up. Besides, polishing off a bag of potato chips is just as temporary and only brings you feelings of guilt because you know they aren't good for your health or weigh.


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