Hi There – I’m Karen Gilchrist and I’m hopeful you and your family are all healthy and happy!

We are living in a strange and stressful time. So much change from every direction: isolation from loved ones; job and financial uncertainty; ongoing disinfecting; social distancing from friends and neighbors; and home schooling our children. To keep ourselves and loved ones safe and healthy we are being called upon to make substantial modifications in what was once a normal daily routine. Change is a scary thing at times, especially if what lies beyond it is unknown and we aren’t sure what to expect.

Naturally, it’s during this time, we are in an elevated emotional state. We are more anxious or sadder than normal, making it a target time for emotional eating. Turning to food is a natural coping strategy, but it shouldn’t be our only strategy.

When our body is stressed our adrenal glands produce and release the cortisol hormone into our bloodstream. Cortisol causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. It is the hormone that triggers the “fight or flight” response.

Normal daily activities regularly produce and release small amounts of cortisol, which may heighten memory, increase the immune system and lower sensitivity to pain. When too much cortisol is released, however, the body acts strangely. We lose hair, gain weight, and turn to emotional eating to try to suppress those feelings.

Instead of eating, we need to address our stress in a different way. What we have to understand is that there is a very clear physical process going in our body when we get stressed out, and then when we relieve stress, we reverse that process.

There are many activities that we can do that have been shown to reduce cortisol production in our body, making us less stressed. However, the effectiveness of the activities varies from person to person.

For example, if we really love animals and we have pets, then we’re going to see a significant decrease in stress from spending time with them, petting them, and playing with them. Both dog and cat owners have been shown to have lower stress levels when they’re interacting with their pets, so it’s a great activity for both us and our pets.

Many people also have stress relieving reactions to certain types of music. When they get caught up listening to their favorite songs, their body stops releasing the stress hormone and instead just focuses on the music. It doesn’t have to be traditional calming music – just whatever it is that we really enjoy listening to, because the aim is to make us happier.

For the more athletically inclined, exercise is a proven combatant of stress. It gets our blood pumping and lets our body get distracted from whatever it is that’s making us get stressed out. It also helps us look and feel better. Whether it’s going for a 20 minute walk or spending two hours lifting weights, exercise is a great way to blow off steam and release endorphins.

What it really boils down to is doing something that we enjoy that’s productive, because what we’re trying to accomplish is slowing our body’s cortisol production down so that we’re not stressed out.

Whatever it is that helps us do that best is what we should do, as long as it’s healthy, unlike emotional eating. Food is something that should be enjoyable and a nutrition resource – but it should never act as a crutch to prop us up in times of turmoil.

Let me know how you are coping and what your strategies are for avoiding emotional eating by replying to my blog.

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