Do long hours, deadlines and overdue bills drive you to ice-cream, cookies, bags of potato chips, greasy fries, or donuts?
In a study of over 200 students, published in Psychology and Behavior, 73% reported eating more snack foods and less fruits and veggies, when stressed. This translates into high-fat and high-sugar foods.
When pressures mounts, women in particular, crave fat in the form of chips and ice cream. Naturally produced brain chemicals called dynorphins spike in the brain when we are stressed. Unlike feel-good endorphins, dynorphins are associated with pain and depression and an increased appetite, especially for fats.
Unfortunately, the fats in fast foods and packaged snacks are industrial oils and trans fats, both of which drive up inflammation, weight gain, disease risk and even anxiety. Furthermore, high temperatures used to crisp up fatty favorites cause formation of toxic free-radicals, chemicals in oils that speed disease, pain and aging.
Sadly, a low-fat diet isn’t the answer either. Studies in animals and in humans show low fat diets increase tension, hostility and anger. Fat helps us regain a feeling of calm by decreasing stress hormones.
Fat and sugar can make us feel good. But what should we do about it.
Strangely, fat itself is one solution. We crave greasy foods when stressed, but also when our diet lacks healthy fats. We need good fats for energy, bone health, to make cell membranes, hormones and to assimilate vitamins and minerals. Our brain is 60% fat. We need fats for cognition, memory and good moods. It’s no wonder we crave fat when we’re anxious.
So, where do we find good fats?
Butter, coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, avocado, grass-fed meats and egg yolks are all healthy fat sources. Increasing good fats while also cutting canola, grape seed, soy and other processed oils and especially partially hydrogenated fats, will benefit you on many levels. Traditional fats reduce inflammation, disease, depression and anxiety along with urges for bad fats. They actually help you to burn fat while reducing risk of heart disease and cancer, while industrial oils do the opposite.
For health and well-being, replace chips and fries with avocado, seeds and nuts. Try guacamole on a warm corn tortilla instead of chips. Reach for a handful of almonds instead of fries.
Consider wild salmon and sliced potatoes grilled in olive oil instead of fried fish and chips. The next time you’re itching for a burger, brown your own juicy grass-fed beef patty in butter.
Coping with anxiety through exercise, yoga and other inner awareness practices, will also curb fat cravings. Calming body and mind reduces dynorphin-driven fat cravings.
Avoid replacing fat with sugar, which can be worse. The two are often packaged together (think donuts, cookies, and ice cream). Refined sugars are inflammatory and also fuel anxiety, obesity, pain, heart disease and cancer.
You may crave greasy food when under pressure, but by increasing good fats in your diet and taking steps to relax, you will enjoy a leaner, calmer, healthier body.
Linda L. Prout, MS, is a nutritionist, speaker, and author of Live in the Balance, The Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program. She has been a nutrition consultant for more than 25 years including at the Claremont Resort and Spa in Berkeley, CA and the Six Senses Spa in Turkey. Her East-West nutrition philosophy influences her nutrition plans and presentations for individuals and organizations around the world via email and Skype. www.lindaprout.com
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