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How Diet Affects Your Stress Levels

Updated on March 18, 2011

It is often easier to change your lifestyle so that stress doesn't occur than it is either to reduce the intensity of any reaction to the stressful life, or to change the approach to the job or home. Although the stress may still be there, it may no longer be so irritating and destructive to the metabolism and cardiovascular system. The obvious place to start in any preventative stress regime is in the realm of diet.

If taken in the wrong quantities, food and drink may not only be symptoms of stress but they may, in fact, create it. Stressed people either eat too much or too little. Those who starve themselves may have a distorted self image; they never realize consciously just how thin they are, and what damage they may be doing to themselves. If depression is a major factor of an anxiety state, the person may well lose weight. The loss of half a stone is always considered significant in medicine. Sufferers of stress-linked eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia may lose this amount of weight, although the latter are more likely to be slightly overweight.

Conversely, those people who are both anxious and depressed - and especially when the symptoms of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy predominate - often indulge in comfort eating. This is a vicious circle. Miserable, anxious people eat too much because they are comfort-eating, then become obsessed by food because it relieves these tensions. As the pounds pile on, their already deficient self-image is further eroded. This isn't helped by the fact that, many times a day, those who are overweight are shown pictures of near-anorexic people who they are supposed to emulate but have obviously failed to do so.

In many overweight people, inner unhappiness: concealed beneath a veneer of joviality. This joviality may not only mask the tattered self-image, but it deflects criticism because it tends to make a joke of the person and his or her obesity. Overeating may, however, be brought on by other causes. It is often a feature of some types of depressive illness, including seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, which is triggered largely by a lack of sunlight. In the winter, a small proportion of depressed patients who are suffering from SAD overeat, just as they may oversleep - hence the similarity people notice in the condition to hibernation.

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