Eating as a stress response - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Eating as a stress response

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Posted: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 12:00 am

 There’s a magnet on my refrigerator that says, “Come along inside ... we’ll see if tea and buns makes the world a better place.” Just below that, there’s a magnet presenting the counterargument, “If hunger isn’t the problem, then food isn’t the answer.”

If you haven’t guessed by now that I’m an emotional eater, don’t feel bad. Just have a Pop Tart; it’ll make you feel better. I know, because it always works for me. No matter what the situation, if it’s making me nervous on any level then next thing I know I’m standing in the pantry testing to see if eating a can of beefaroni will balance my checkbook. So far, Chef Boyardee hasn’t risen to the task, but I have high hopes for the Keebler elves and their graham crackers.

Since this behavior has a direct and deleterious effect on my ability to zip up my jeans, I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think that this is why I keep hoping that a pile of wasabi peas holds the answer to life’s mysteries, or at least getting my sons to actually do and turn in their homework:

Back in the day when we were still all evolving cave people, stress came in just a few flavors. The first stress flavor was noticing that there wasn’t a lot of food available to eat. The second flavor was noticing that a wooly mammoth was about to eat you.

In both cases, eating something as a stress response was smart. If your food sources are running out, then it might make sense to load up on as much as you can to build up the size of your rear so you can’t fit into any cute work clothes anymore so you have enough reserves to make it through the next winter. If you’re in a high-traffic area for rabid wooly mammoths, you want to stock up on calories so you have the energy to flee. Screaming is optional.

Happily (or sadly, depending on how you look in your shorts) we are related to the people who did the best job of loading up our rear-ends in the face of danger. And so when danger rears its ugly head, we’re actually hardwired into turning to food for a solution, because stress = wooly mammoth = faceplant into a pizza. It’s a circle of life kind of thing.

Except that today stress almost never comes in the form of a stampeding wooly mammoth. It usually shows up in the guise of imminent layoffs, or an IRS auditor, or the air conditioning making a really expensive-sounding noise that ends in a KERPLUNK on a Saturday night in July. But when the stress stimulus happens, our brains still pop up the magic word “EAT” as if eating plain brownie mix straight out of the box will turn our brother-in-law into an HVAC tech or at least a CPA.

Not that I’ve ever done that. No, I’m far more sophisticated and I know that brownie mix can’t do that kind of magic. But an entire plate of nachos? That can fix my car. And get it detailed, too.

While it makes me roughly the size of a wooly mammoth.


Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at Her column appears monthly.

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