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Is Stress Causing the Obesity Epidemic? (Part 2)

Is Stress Causing the Obesity Epidemic?

Continuous exposure to stress is making America fatter. Our bodies are kept in a constant state of heightened response, pumping out elevated levels of hormones like cortisol that raise blood pressure, cause muscles to atrophy and promote belly fat. In my previous article I outlined a couple ways to fight that stress. I'd like to share a few more here.

When stress goes up, sugary comfort foods help bring it down, temporarily. When you eat a food high in simple carbs, your blood sugar level spikes, causing a short term feeling of well-being. As your body processes the food, your blood sugar levels plummet and you're left feeling sleepy, lethargic and hungry again.

It's OK to eat carbs, but when you do, it's important to choose ones that are higher in fiber. The fiber in 100% whole wheat bread takes longer for the body to break down, which slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream. It doesn't lead to the sudden spikes or crashes a low fiber white bread can cause.

The best way to keep your blood sugar at an even level is by eating small meals frequently throughout the day. A constant, moderate flow of foods helps you body avoid the peaks and valleys that drain you of energy and lead to cravings.

Another way to reduce stress is to quit using caffeine as a coping mechanism. Notice I didn't say give it up entirely, just stop taking it every couple of hours during the day when you need a little boost.

Caffeine raises stress hormones and can cause insomnia, which affects your body's ability to handle stress. Caffeine can also inhibit serotonin levels in the brain, making you irritable, depressed and more likely to eat carbohydrate rich foods. Instead of relying on caffeine to get you through slumps like an afternoon lull, schedule more time to sleep at night so the entire day you'll feel more rested and refreshed.

Eat more foods with B vitamins in them. People who are low in B vitamins like folic acid and B12 can experience depression. Meats like beef, pork and chicken are high in B vitamins and can elevate mood, which reduces stress levels. You'll also find B vitamins in citrus fruits, eggs, leafy greens, legumes, nuts and rice.

Foods that are high in B vitamins also tend to be high in protein, which stimulates the production of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters are known to improve alertness and energy, which also reduces stress.

Breath deep to relax and lower stress. Many people aren't using their entire lung capacity. If you only use part of your lungs, you won't take in the maximum amount of energy producing oxygen you need. Fix it by standing up straight and concentrate on taking five deep breaths, twice a day. Here's how to do it.

Look at your chest and abdomen while you're breathing. Now place one hand on the part that rises and falls the most during each breath. If your abdomen is moving more, you're doing fine. But, if your chest is doing most of the moving, you're not utilizing the lower part of your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and concentrate on filling your abdomen with air. Your abdomen should rise and your chest should move very little.

Laugh more. When you exercise, your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, the blood becomes more oxygenated and stress hormones are suppressed. The same thing happens when you laugh. If you're feeling stressed, read the comics, rent a funny movie or visit a friend that makes you smile.

The final stress reliever I suggest is to start a gratitude journal. Instead of constantly replaying the negative things in your life, spend a couple minutes each day writing down the things you're grateful for and the good parts of your day. Focus on the positive, enjoy life and take steps to come back stronger tomorrow.

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5/1/2011