November 2007

Health Note: Are you Eating to Kill Stress

Author: Theresa Jackson

Most overweight people eat to overcome, diffuse or “kill” certain uncomfortable feelings such as stress, anger or from being overwhelmed. We live in stressful times, and high stress generates uncomfortable feelings. But very few of us have been taught effective skills to manage those feelings. So we handle them the best way we can—we eat.

But eating because of stress, just leads to more stress doesn’t it? Then we have to eat even more. And then we’re stressed because we’re overweight. And then it begins all over again. We get caught in a self-perpetuating, vicious cycle.

Stress is the body’s built-in response to any perceived threat. The physical response is an increased heart rate, labored breathing, throbbing temples, muscular tension, and acid in the stomach. With time and repeated exposure, these responses can cause a host of ills, such as lowered immunity (which leads to a higher risk of infection, illness or disease), ulcers, headaches, hormonal imbalances and cardiovascular problems.

So what can we do about it?
Everybody feels stressed at some time. Stress happens. The ceiling in your living room that was supposed to be painted two years ago still needs to be painted; someone cuts you off on the way to work—and you are already late; you receive a distressing phone call; your teenager is demanding those expensive tennis shoes. These situations are part of life. These anxieties, frustrations, moments of anger, and so on are what may end up sending you to find food for comfort. If you are not able to calm yourself, you will continue to reach for food.

Having the ability to calm yourself will restore your sense of well-being when things go wrong and allow you to deal with the trying events that happen each and every day without having to turn to food.

There are literally hundreds of different techniques to find calm in stressful or overwhelming situations. You may find one way that works or it may be a combination of a few things. Below are a few examples. You can decide what will work best for you:

1. Say “CALM.” Okay now say it again. And again. Just saying the word “calm” can make you feel better, more relaxed.

2.Take a deep breath. Breathing is the first step to calming down. By being able to control your breathing, by harnessing this powerful life force, you can find calm in moments of stress. Sometimes all you can do is take a deep breath and then deal with whatever issue is at hand.

3. Find a happy place. Remember the children’s movie Finding Nemo? The little starfish in the fish tank is stressed about something and screams out, “Find a happy place, find a happy place.” You have the ability to visualize a calming scene during moments of crisis or stress. You may see yourself at the beach, or in a meadow, or being comforted by someone you love. When you are having a fight with your spouse, boss or friend or if something sets you off, when you are able to do so, remove yourself from the situation, close your eyes and go to your “happy place.” When you picture this scene, are you watching yourself or are you participating? If you are watching yourself, shift your perspective to put yourself in the scene. For instance, if you are in a forest and you see yourself lying under a tree, change your perspective so that you see only the branches of the trees up above against a clear blue sky. By doing this, you draw yourself completely into the image.

4. Write it down. The pen is mightier than the sword. Another way to calm down is by writing out or journaling what you are feeling. For some reason, when we get it out, and it’s on paper, there is a sense of relief. Also keeping a journal of thoughts, feelings and situations provides a documentation of the journey that you are on. You can look back and see the progress you have made.

5. Meditate. You are getting very sleepy. Just like “finding your happy place,” self-hypnosis or meditation is an opportunity for real relaxation, just at a deeper level.

You have the ability to control and direct your thoughts and emotions. Your thoughts can be creative and life-affirming or destructive and abusive. The choice is yours.

What you say to yourself and how you see things in your mind will create and sustain your emotions. Thoughts happen. You have no control over that; but you do have the power and the ability to transform and direct your thoughts. Every repeated message that you give yourself is reinforced and becomes stronger and more powerful. So you have to decide: Is this going to be a good message or a harmful message?

To reduce the frequency of stress or other painful emotions, listen to what you think, because what you think will create what you feel. You have the right to respond to a situation just the way that you want to. You are in control of how you respond, and you have the choice to respond in a way that is harmful or helpful to you. It all goes back to what you say to yourself—your internal dialogue.

Be nice to yourself. Your waistline will thank you!

Theresa Jackson is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Nutritional Counselor who is also pursuing a doctorate in Natural Health. She is the Founder & President of Wellness Within Centers with programs in weight reduction, smoking cessation and golf performance improvement. You can reach the Wellness Within office at 843-986-9700. Have a question you might like answered? You can email your questions to

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