Lori Brothers

About Lori Brothers: Lori is the director of The Dean Ornish Program For Reversing Heart Disease at Jameson Hospital. Her blog appears each Thursday.

Have you ever noticed that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backward?

To follow up on last week’s look at other reasons to eat besides survival, one of the more challenging topics is stress eating. How you feel contributes to what you weigh.

Here’s how.

Your physiology actually develops a toxic dynamic when you rev up your emotions, then don’t blow off steam. It starts like this. Stress begins, and at subtle levels your heart rate and respiratory rate speed up and your blood pressure rises. This cues your body to turn off your digestive system. Your body is now at a heightened state to survive. You don’t need to digest your lunch if you are combating danger — even if it turns out that that danger is your own emotional triggers.

Meanwhile, the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, are released into your body, which is wise enough, based on your emotional cues, to produce super human strength to help you get away from danger. So sad, at this point, the danger is yourself.

Along with the chemicals that have been secreted, your body now releases stores of carbs and fat into the mix to give you all the energy you’ll need to fight or flee.

If you do not expend the amount of energy required to burn up these powerful chemicals by punching a punching bag, sprinting down the street, or joyfully dancing (wildly dancing, if you prefer), it just floats around in your body and becomes corrosive over time.

I am not painting a pretty picture, am I?  And it’s not over.

If you continue this dynamic of worrying or reacting emotionally to your life events or the people around you, your adrenals keep pumping and, eventually, the production of even more toxic levels of cortisol rise.

This is considered chronic stress because it is ongoing over a period of time. At this point, this chemical infusion now triggers your body to feel hungry. It needs to store more energy for all of this danger you are signaling. Your appetite is stimulated and you reach for your favorite comfort food because with all of that flight-or-fight rampaging through your body you probably feel awful. So why not eat that bag of chips or your favorite snack cakes?

Let the stress eating begin — or in some cases, continue, depending on where you are in this perpetual chain of stress response.

The results? Weight gain. Research has shown that this type of repeated pattern adds weight, especially around the abdomen.

It is clear from this scenario that how you feel contributes to how much you weigh.

While external circumstances may be contributing to your emotional responses, learning to manage your responses comes from the inside.

In order to break the chain of emotional reactions that trigger your survival mode, the simple-but-powerful techniques we’ll call “stress management” is essential.

Stress management is yoga and exercised based, and is used to send healthier signals to your systems. The techniques are simple and are very effective, but only if you are willing to utilize them daily. This is the only way that new patterns are established from the inside out.

Taking a 20-minute walk daily and, at least once a day, sitting quietly counting your inhalation and doubling the exhalation are the two most potent undercover agents to busting the potentially deadly patterns that lead to emotional eating.

Also, Jameson Hospital offers stress management classes which offer other useful tips. To learn more about classes call Jameson’s Staff and Community Education, (724) 656-4270.

Low-Fat Macaroni & Cheese

8 servings

  • 12 ounces low-fat cottage cheese
  • 8 ounces lowfat sour cream
  • 4 cups elbow macaroni, cooked
  • 2 cups lowfat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 egg white  s
  • Butter-flavored cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

Garnish: fresh oregano sprigs

Combine cottage cheese and sour cream in container of an electric blender; process until smooth. Combine cottage cheese mixture, macaroni, and next 6 ingredients; spoon into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and paprika; coat lightly with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake 5 additional minutes. Garnish, if desired.


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