Beverly Knauer is better known to those at the Talking Low Carb Forums as Moongoddess, where she shares her insights, empathy, and support with
other low carbers every day.
The letter came as a complete surprise to my friend, Sarah. She knew there were going to
be layoffs, but not in her own department! But there it was, along with her paycheck — a
pink slip. She was losing her job. Financial woes have plagued her for some time, and now
she doesn't know how she is going to cope with this piece of news. She has a mortgage, car
payments, college tuition for her daughter…
My co-worker Martin bemoans his fate over morning coffee. Earlier, he sat in the gridlock
on Freeway 405, feeling frustrated and angry. Now he's worried about how long the commute
home will be. Traffic is always in a snarl now, and what used to be a thirty-minute commute
home is now a journey of an hour and fifteen minutes. It's unnerving to be surrounded by all
the road-rage and honking cars while moving at a snail's pace. He needs to pick Johnny up
from daycare before 6:00 P.M., and is worried if he will make it in time. His hand reaches
for the doughnut on the plate, and he stuffs it into his mouth while he speaks….
Then there's my friend Karen. Her husband just had back surgery, and she has to help him
out while he is at home on bed rest. She needs to run to fill his prescriptions and take her
oldest son over to water-polo practice and pick up her daughter from dance lessons. She has
been running a low-grade fever and feeling ill for days now, but has been too busy taking care
of others to make an appointment with the doctor for herself.
What is it all of these people have in common? If you said "stress", you're right. Stressful
situations are everywhere around us. We experience stress both on a large scale (i.e. the war
on terrorism, economic turmoil) as well as the "lesser" stresses of day-to-day life at home and
on the job. Each day we fight the battle against stress as we are barraged with events that are
thrust upon us.
Stress can be acute or chronic. Acute stress might be a pending job interview or an upcoming
chemistry exam. Chronic stress might be ongoing financial woes or continual work site harassment.
Of course, stress is not always a negative thing. Stress prepares us for action, and this can be
advantageous, even necessary. When we can control stress, it can stimulate and excite us. If we
had no stress in our lives, we would undoubtedly be bored and unmotivated. In ancient times,
stress came about in the form of imminent danger, making it essential that the body
respond with physical changes to cope. In modern times, stress helps us reach optimal performance
levels by getting us "pumped" or "primed" for action. This is true whether we're about to
participate in a sporting event or about to enter a room full of in-laws.
But this stress can become problematic when a person has not developed healthy coping mechanisms.
People under stress often seek relief through negative or unhealthy behavior such as stress eating.
We have a natural propensity to attempt to calm ourselves, to relax, and to quiet the anxiety — and
this is when we break out the comfort food. These soothing provisions, often high in carbs, act as
tranquilizers (I call them "carb-alizers") — meaning that when we engage in stress eating, we are
actually practicing self-medication.
Stress can cause us to dive into a tub of Cherry Garcia ice cream or fill up on a plate overflowing
with macaroni and cheese or other comfort foods that may calm the soul, but haunt us with escalating
numbers on the scale. It's not a slab of steak I reach for when I'm getting the stress munchies…
No, it's almost always cookies, chips or ice cream that I crave.
There's a scientific reason for this: Stress makes the body go through physical changes, some of
which directly affect appetite. For example, Cortisol, a hormone, is released by the adrenal glands
in response to either physical or emotional stress. Cortisol can stimulate food cravings and is a
powerful appetite stimulant. Increased Cortisol levels raise insulin levels. When we're under
chronic stress, our Cortisol levels stay elevated. Now that's a recipe for weight gain!
Stress will also prompt the body to boost the brain's production of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter
that produces feelings of calm and well-being. This boost produces a craving for simple carbohydrates,
which are one of the raw materials used to manufacture Serotonin. The body's objective is to get its
blood sugar up as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, once we have raised our blood sugar levels, we
suffer from a rebound effect. Our blood sugar plummets, then we become hungry for more carbohydrates!
When we're stressed, food can have a calming affect, but only for a short time.
The level of stress we can tolerate differs for each of us. It has been said that our stress is
very much like the tension on a violin string — not enough produces a dull, grating sound and too
much snaps the string; however, the perfect amount produces a magnificent tone. We just need to
find the right balance.
Obviously, we "low-carbers" need to try to avoid sugary carbs as our source for comfort. There are
many healthier ways to quiet down our tension. The following are some "stress buster" options that
don't include "carb-alizers". Think about these alternative relief options:
Stress itself is hard to avoid. In this age of anxiety, there are more causes of stress being added daily.
To keep the scale numbers from escalating, we need to find alternative coping mechanisms
besides stress eating.
In fact, right now, the phone has been ringing off the hook, there is jack hammering going on in the parking
lot behind me, and my inbox is full but my outbox is empty. I really am having a craving for some potato
- Taking a nap
- Vigorous exercise
- Renting a funny movie (Laughing is a great stress-reliever)
- Deep breathing / yoga / self hypnosis / TaiChi
- Petting your dog or cat
- A massage / facial / pedicure / manicure
- Drinking a soothing hot cup of tea
- Chatting on the phone with a friend
- Watching fish in an aquarium
- Non-pressure activities like walking / reading a book / gardening / painting
- Watching a fire burn in a fireplace
- A bubble bath with the phone turned off
- Listening to calming music while wearing headphones
- Visualization of positive outcomes / a positive mental rehearsal of upcoming events
- Sitting quietly in a darkened room with scented candles burning
- A brisk walk / a leisurely stroll
But wait… I think I will take a brisk walk instead.
Copyright © October 2003 Beverly Knauer and Low Carb Luxury