Friday, June 23, 2017

Healthy Habits: Financial Stress and Pregnancy

Stress can affect a woman during pregnancy. Yet now studies are showing that one of the largest stress factors for many pregnant woman is worry about having the financial means to provide adequate health care, food, and security for the newborn. This stress is leading many women to give birth to underweight babies. How serious of an issue is this? What can be done to alleviate this potential health risk?

I had a chance to interview Dr. Renee Allen, a leading OB/GYN, to learn more.

What is emotional eating vs. physical hunger?

            Have you ever found yourself reaching for the bag of greasy potato chips, box of donuts or that pint of ice cream after a very stressful day at work, school or with your family?
            Emotional eating or stress eating is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to fill immediate or chronic emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach. It  is eating - urgently and instantly, as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. It has a numbing, softening effect on our unwanted feelings, and takes our attention away from them - momentarily. Emotional eating is when you find yourself eating as a response to stress and/or for reasons other than satisfying actual physical hunger.
            Physical hunger is eating in response to a physiological need to eat for energy to fuel your body to make it through the day. Your body will give you gradual cues that it needs to refuel (stomach grumbling, headache, feeling weak or tired).
            When you are physically hungry, almost any food sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. Very rarely, however do you make healthy choices with emotional hunger - instead emotional eaters tend to often crave high-calorie or high-carbohydrate foods that have minimal nutritional value and that provides an instant rush.
            Emotional hunger can be very powerful (emotionally and physically), so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. Emotional eating is an unhealthy cycle of trying to fill an emotional need with food. It can become a coping mechanism and as such, a never-ending cycle that never fulfills or satisfies over the long-term. Eating may feel good in the immediate moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still present. The problem is that  you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed.When left untreated, emotional eating can lead to overeating and eventually cause obesity, problems with weight loss, and even lead to food addiction.

What is the physiological basis for emotional eating?

            It is thought that the increase in the hormone cortisol, that is one of the body's  many responses to stress, is similar to the medication prednisone in its effects.  Both tend to trigger the body's stress (fight or flight) response, including increased heart and breathing rate, blood flow to muscles, and visual acuity. Another part of the body’s stress response often includes increased appetite to supply the body with the fuel it needs to fight or flee This increased appetite may result in cravings for junk or high-calorie foods. People who have been subjected to chronic rather than momentary stress (like job stress, family stress or abuse) are at risk for having chronically high levels of cortisol circulating in their bodies, which may contribute to developing chronic emotional-eating patterns.  

Identify your triggers and hotspots

You need to identify what feeling, places or situations push you to an emotional state of needing to eat to calm down or feel better? What are your comfort foods? It should be noted that not all emotional eating is linked to negative emotions. Some women also will emotionally eat to express positive feelings like happiness, love or pride too
Some common triggers are:
Childhood habit
Boredom or feelings of worthlessness
Social Influences or Peer pressure
Relationship Conflicts
Health Problems

Whatever are your personal identified triggers, the  unhealthy cycle remains the same - these emotions drive you to overeat or make poor eating choice not out of hunger, you feel guilty about your eating choices, the emotional triggers return, and the guilt returns. 

Release the emotions by Acceptance and Emotional Grounding  and Centering
            The key to ending this pattern is to not abandon yourself when your emotions go awry, but instead to invite them in, center and allow yourself to feel your emotions. Substitute the negatives emotional drivers for  positive alternative behaviors.
            Identify and name the emotion (anger, sadness, guilt) and allow yourself the privilege of being worthy of embodying these emotions. Recognize that these emotions are valid and have a right to be expressed - in a healthy manner. These negative emotions are just as important as your positive emotions for laying of the foundation for your overall psychological health and well-being. Accept the negative emotion and try to figure out what these emotions want from you. What thoughts are they influencing in creation?  Find other ways to fulfill yourself emotionally, aside from eating. Center yourself by mediating and focusing on only the raw emotion, identifying what led to it, what actions/consequence can dissipate it. Mediation and other relaxation techniques is a powerful tool to manage stress and therefore decrease emotional eating. It also has the even more lasting beneficial effects on health, even decreasing high blood pressure and heart rate.
Substitute the negatives emotional drivers for the positive alternative behaviors

            Through listening to your emotions, you’ll discover what it is you truly want, and can create new strategies for deeper satisfaction.
            It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a huge first step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfillment. If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone you love and who always makes you feel better, play with your beautiful dog or cat. If you’re bored, read a good book or explore the outdoors.
Eat Well, Live Well

Make pleasure a priority in your life!
Make it a priority to eat the highest quality and most delicious foods. Sit down and savor every bite. Recognize the sensation of satiation and learn not to when to stop eating.  Explore and be adventurous in creating mouth-watering, well-balanced satisfying food, which will help to decrease the likelihood of you making alternative food choices of poorer quality. Make it a priority to
the most delicious healthy food that you can find in healthy portions
But do not just limit to your experiences surrounding food.

Take relaxing bubble baths, get massages, smell the flowers on long lazy walks,  exercise regularly and do exciting things. Give your body other ways to experience feeling good, aside from eating

Seek The Support You Need

            Seeking out help to overcome powerful emotions and triggers leading to emotional eating is also essential in overcoming this issue. Your toolbox to overcome emotional eating should include:
            Call a friend as a sounding board during times of stress
            Journaling/blogging your feelings at the moment
            Joining a group or meet up such as Overeaters Anonymous for additional support
            Mental-health professionals and therapy many times is underrated as a powerful tool in assessing and treating emotional eating

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