Health hotline: Callers seek help with stress-related eating

Published: Sunday, March 14 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Dealing with stress by eating is a common form of coping for many people but often leads to excess weight or obesity. Several callers were looking to address stress-related eating on Saturday during the monthly Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline.

More than three dozen calls were answered by dietician Jessica Metz and Dr. Scott Hansen, who work with patients looking to control weight and/or cholesterol at the Gateway to Wellness Program at LDS Hospital.

"Many people have found that eating makes them feel good" when faced with circumstances they're struggling to manage, said Metz. She spoke with one woman who has eight children and becomes anxious as 3 p.m. rolls around each weekday, meaning her children are coming home from school.

To deal with the pressure, "she just starts binging," Metz said, noting often stress hormones kick in that begin preparing the body to deal with stress. "We identified some other triggers in her day and talked about taking the time she needs for herself" to calm and quiet her mind.

"We need to focus on healthy meals and the motivation she needs to have the energy necessary to take care of the kids. It's a matter of realizing this is how she's dealing" with the stress, and working on ways to change that, Metz said.

Several callers asked about how chronic disease affects their ability to lose weight, Hansen said. "There are common challenges in that, particularly if you're being treated for behavior health issues like stress, depression or other mental health disorders."

Most of the medications used to treat those conditions "cause weight gain. At best, you can find a few that are neutral that way," he said.

Blood pressure control medications may also have adverse effects on weight, and the only one that seems to promote some weight loss is metformin, which is also used to help control early onset diabetes.

Several callers said they are exercising consistently for 30 to 60 minutes daily through aerobics or strength training and they've lost some weight but they can't seem to get to their target weights.

"It's probably they have not made a full analysis of the nutritional value of what they're eating," he said. "They need to examine the specifics of what it is they consume, and how they spread that throughout the day."

Other factors that need to be examined include how well they're sleeping and how well they're managing stress. "If you're tired all the time, you will eat and feel very differently.

"If you're overstressed, most people have coping mechanisms, and that can include just eating and feeling better temporarily," rather than dealing with it in ways that will improve health in the long run," he said.

e-mail: carrie@desnews.com

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