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How to Cure Overeating

Wednesday, 14 Apr 2010 10:45 AM


Most overeating is caused by stress, induced by life situations, bad food, or both. The cure is not willpower but a new type of food plan that doesn’t place any foods off limits but rather, organizes the day’s meals in a way that reverses the stress-eating cycle.

These are the conclusions of Rachael and Richard Heller, PhDs and authors of The Stress Eating Cure: Lose Weight with the No-Willpower Solution to Stress-Hunger and Cravings. If you’ve been tracking weight-loss diets for a while, you may remember The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, by the same authors.

The Hellers have been researching the causes of weight gain for more than 25 years and have, together, lost nearly 250 pounds. They’ve remained trim and healthy for the past 25 years, while studying the causes of weight gain and finding ways for others to gain control of their appetite and weight.

This new eating approach isn’t a “diet” in the negative sense. It’s a method of choosing foods that can, quite realistically, become part and parcel of the way you eat for the rest of your life.

The Stress-Eating Cycle

If you struggle with weight, chances are, stress influences your eating habits. “Between 80 and 85 percent of the population will regularly stress eat as a result of chronic or acute stress,” Rachael Heller tells me.

The stress can be caused by an irritating boss or co-worker, family relationships, financial problems, or the wrong foods, namely an excess of sugary or starchy carbohydrates, often in combination with saturated fats. Doughnuts are obvious examples, but fresh fruits and some vegetables (those high in starch and/or sugar) can also do damage, depending on when and how you eat them.

If you eliminate food-triggered stress, life stress doesn’t have the same dire consequences. However, both types of stress set off an imbalance among hormones.

Hormonal imbalance, according to the Hellers, is the foundation of cravings for the wrong foods, perpetuating overeating and making it almost impossible to satisfy hunger with a reasonable portion of food. If a 3-ounce or 4-ounce portion of meat or fish seems ridiculously small, this could be the reason.

Hunger Switches

Cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone, is the kingpin in stress-related eating. This is what the Hellers found: When its levels are low, the human body naturally feels hungry when it needs food and feels satisfied when it’s had enough. This natural cycle spontaneously maintains a healthy weight but when cortisol levels shoot up, the mechanism goes haywire:

• High cortisol can cause an increase of two other hormones, insulin and ghrelin. Elevated insulin tells your body to eat carbohydrates, and ghrelin tells it to keep on eating.
• Elevated insulin leads to abnormal amounts of fat storage. Stress eaters consuming the same number of calories as a thin person of the same size can weigh, according to Heller, 30 to 50-percent more.
• Elevated cortisol can also decrease serotonin and leptin. Serotonin is the “feel good” hormone we commonly associate with a good mood but it is also partially responsible for the feeling of satisfaction from eating. Leptin gives us the signal that we’ve eaten enough. Inadequate levels of these two hormones make you want to keep eating.

Breaking the Stress Cycle

During the past decade of their research, the Hellers found that you don’t have to eliminate any foods to end cravings and prevent the urge to eat endlessly. But, you do have to limit how often you eat stress-inducing foods.

They divide food into two categories: Balancing and comfort. As you might guess, the comfort foods are the ones that induce hormonal imbalance and internal stress. This is roughly what each category contains:

Balancing Foods: These restore hormonal balance and can be eaten at any time of day for meals or snacks. They include lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood; low-starch, low-sugar vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, green peppers (but not red ones), scallions (but not onions), and pretty much all green vegetables except leeks, peas, pea pods, and zucchini; unsaturated fats (olive oil, seed oils, peanut oils); nuts and seeds; eggs; and dairy products (except sweetened ones), including cheeses.

Comfort Foods: To stop stress eating, these should be eaten at only one meal, with or after balancing foods. They include all baked goods (sweet or not); all grains and pastas; desserts and candy; all fruits and fruit juices; sweetened dairy products and creamers; protein bars and drinks with any sweeteners (including fruit); alcoholic drinks and non-alcoholic alternatives; sodas or other sweetened drinks; breath mints, cough drops and gum; ketchup and other condiments with sugar or other sweeteners (such as barbecue and steak sauces); butter and other saturated fats; and some vegetables, including corn, artichokes, potatoes, squash, zucchini, carrots, and tomatoes (these are relatively high in starch and/or sugar).

Following this plan, you should eat a hearty breakfast, such as an omelet, Canadian bacon or ham, buttered toast, fruit and yogurt, a Danish, juice and coffee or tea with cream and sugar. All these would make up one breakfast. However, your other meals (and snacks, if you like) would need to consist of only of balancing foods (and no sugar or other sweeteners in tea or coffee).

The key is eating comfort foods only once daily and with balancing foods, because this keeps hormones in check. Breakfast is the best comfort-food time but if you’re going out to dinner, you could enjoy yourself, stick to balancing foods throughout the rest of the day and still stay on track.

To me, these are the most interesting things about this plan: It requires that you eat “comfort foods” each day, to get a variety of nutrients and to avoid feeling deprived. And, it’s flexible enough to become a long-term way of eating.

To be fair, I’ve only covered some highlights. The Hellers have identified 11 different types of stress eaters and have customized food and exercise plans for each type.

The most common type of stress eating is carbohydrate-induced. In Heller’s words, this is one manifestation: “When carbs hit your mouth, you feel like an on-off switch turned on.” And you have to keep eating. If that describes you, The Stress Eating Cure may well change your life.






© HealthDay

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Most overeating is caused by stress, induced by life situations, bad food, or both. The cure is not willpower but a new type of food plan that doesn’t place any foods off limits but rather, organizes the day’s meals in a way that reverses the stress-eating cycle.
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