Modern Stressors and Stress Eating

Modern Stressors and Stress EatingWhen asked why they overeat, most dieters commonly confess that they eat when they are under stress. Considering the numerous stressful situations people encounter in modern-day life, it’s no wonder so many of us are battling the bulge. If you suspect stress plays a significant role in your eating habits, learning more about stress and how to control it can help you manage your weight after weight loss surgery.

It is important to understand that stress is not a tangible thing; it is an emotional response to an event or situation. While we can all agree that major setbacks like losing a job or loved one are stressful, the ways different people respond to stressful situations varies considerably. Environments and events that you find to be stimulating likely provoke stress in others and vice versa. The events or situations that cause you to feel stress are called stressors.

Stressors can come from both internal and external factors that alter your emotional and/or physical wellbeing and cause you to feel stressed. Most people are surprised to learn that happy events like graduation, marriage, and the birth of a child can be just as stressful as unpleasant ones. Entering into your new life after having weight loss surgery is usually a time of great excitement. However, it is also a time of great stress and if your normal response to stress has been to eat, you are now dealing with yet another stressor – the loss of your normal coping mechanism.

Injury, disease, social events, major life changes, and situations involving family, friends, coworkers, or strangers are all stressors. The body responds to stressors by releasing adrenaline, which in turn initiates the stress response. For this reason, some scientists define stressors as any event or situation that elevates adrenaline and triggers the stress response.


Environmental Stressors: overcrowding, excessive noise or light-especially at night when you are trying to sleep

Daily Stressors: traffic, lost keys, busy schedule

Life Change Stressors: divorce, death of friend or family member, retirement, moving

Workplace Stressors: interpersonal conflicts, unrealistic goals and expectations, lack of control over your projects and/or your situation

Researchers who study stress have developed various Stress Tests and Indexes that assign a numerical value to the life events you have experienced in the past year such as your bariatric surgery. After adding up your score, you compare it with a chart that rates the degree of stress you are exposed to and predicts the likelihood that you may develop stress-related health problems within the next year.

The original Life Stress Test, also known as the Holmes and Rahe test, was created in 1967. An updated version of this test, designed by Dr. Richard Rahe, can be accessed and taken online at mindtools.com. Taking this test will help you recognize what types of major life stressors exist in your own life. However, it will not be able to accurately predict how stressed you actually feel by those events nor will it be able to take into account the amount of low levels daily stressors you encounter.

Because individuals react to life events differently, the actual level of stress you are experiencing will be modified by your coping skills. If you have a lot of successful coping skills, you may experience only moderate stress in situation when most people would feel very stressed. If, on the other hand, you have few coping skills, the reverse will be true. If you turn to food when you feel stressed, you may feel immediately better emotionally, but it has taken a long-term toll on your weight, health, and related stress levels.

The currently available life stress tests do not take the cumulative stressors of everyday life into account. When added together, the accumulation of chronic moderate stressors can cause significant stress, and people react to this stress in various unhealthy ways.

To identify your everyday stressors, think about the times you feel stressed and reflect on the events that preceded that feeling. If you know you eat when you feel stressed, think about what triggered the urge to nibble. Did you have a conflict with your boss or other coworker? Did someone cut you off in traffic? Or, like many Americans, is getting out of the house each day fraught with so many time constraints and such anxiety that you start your day in a panic? Do you simply have too many demands on your time? Time pressure is a common source of stress, particularly for working parents.

Stress Logs Can Help You Find Your Personal Stressors

The next time you feel anxious, frustrated or overwhelmed jot down the answers to these questions:

Questions: Who was involved? What happened? When and where did the situation arise?

Rate Your Stress: low, moderate, high

Record Your Response: What did you do next, how did you feel and what did you think?

Review the entries in your stress log after several days and look for patterns.

Quick Rx for Stress

Slow, deep breathing is a very effective on-the-spot stress management tool. It engages parts of the brain and nervous system that counteract the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety. It can be used any time you feel yourself tensing up. People who have mastered this technique often use it to keep themselves relaxed. However, it is not a substitute for addressing and changing the treatable causes of stress.

Identifying the cause of your stress can help you be more aware of the stress cycle and how you respond to it in the future. Once you know what your stressors are, identify ones you can change. If you often clash with a coworker but can’t change your job at this point, figure out ways to deal with the conflict more effectively. Instead of fuming silently or eating, take a walk and do a few minutes of deep breathing exercises. Scientists tell us that slow deep breathing engages parts of the brain and nervous system that counteract the physical manifestations of stress and anxiety.

If the morning routine provokes anxiety, prepare for the morning the night before. Advanced preparation can help get you out of the house smoothly. Set up breakfast, at least partially, the night before. Invest in a coffee maker with a timer so your cup of java will be brewed when you awake. Have healthy foods in you fridge for your morning meal, etc. Set out clothes and items that you need to take with you. If you have several family members getting ready at once, schedule bathroom time as needed and encourage them to plan ahead for their mornings too. Do they need their soccer shirt washed? Do they have everything ready for school? Can they find all their shoes? These are issue you can take care of the night before that will help eliminate some of your morning rush. Remember, getting up 5 minutes earlier, may avoid rushing in a heavy rush-hour traffic nightmare.

If you never seem to have enough time in the morning or evening, reduce the number of activities you and/or other family members are involved in. Some families have a “one extracurricular event per semester” rule. Learn to say “no” politely but firmly when others put demands on your time. Simplify as many aspects of your life as possible.

Developing Coping Skills after Weight Loss Surgery

The coping skills needed to deal with the major life stressors that can be identified by the life stress test vary. Some stressors, like a new job, will ease over time as you get used to those new situations. Other stressors like excess debt require you to take effective action-for example, calling your creditors and arranging a better payment schedule. If you are finding it difficult to cope with loss, you may benefit from a few counseling sessions to easy your emotions and learn skills for putting your situation into perspective.

When you grow beyond the suggestions in this article, you can find many good free resources on the Internet that can help you learn additional stress control techniques and tools.

Learning stress management skills takes time, but it is well worth the effort you put into it. Not only can it help you manage your weight, but it will also improve many other aspects of your life.

Top Ten Stressors

  1. Death of spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marital separation
  4. Jail term
  5. Death of a close family member
  6. Personal injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Loss of a job
  9. Marital reconciliation
  10. Retirement

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