A Professional Journey to Better Health: Mindful Eating

Sprint 3 of Agile Approach to Behavior Change and Weight Loss 

7/5/15

Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks. The excitement of making a change and incorporating new eating behaviors into my life were distracted by life: a busy week at work, some financial stress, family visiting, and an anniversary. Lots of people get through stress and celebrations without destructive food behavior, but for me it’s a challenge. In my last blog, I said I’d focus on mindful eating. A University of California San Francisco (UCSF) study on the effects of stress on eating behavior and obesity, has shown that “mindful eating—slowing down to consider why, what and when we’re eating—can help us regain control over how much we eat. Moreover, other simple strategies for combating stress, like taking a walk or getting other physical activity, can short-circuit our reflex to turn to food for comfort.” Sounds simple doesn’t it? It seems like anyone could do that.

In times of stress and celebration, I immediately turn to food. This behavior has been deep rooted in me my entire life. “When we are stressed, the biochemistry of our blood changes,” says Elissa Epel, a research psychologist at the UCSF. In response to stress, we produce a hormone called cortisol, which “alerts the brain to look out for those sweet, high-fat foods,” according to Dr. Epel. “When cortisol has stimulated our appetite, it’s one of the strongest drives we have, like the drive to seek a drug.” In a world where we’re often stressed and often surrounded by sugar-laden, high-fat foods, that cortisol-fueled reaction can be a recipe for weight gain.

Everyone out there who has fallen into this cycle knows how hard it is to escape. I beat myself up for not doing what I’d say we would do, and it’s a downward spiral from there. The fact is, I’m going to need help to start reversing behaviors that I’ve practiced my entire life. So that’s what I’m seeking next. I’ll let you know in a few weeks how it’s going.

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