Health

Understanding Emotional Eating

Have you ever come home after a stressful day and ended up eating a pint of Chunky Monkey?  Or maybe you’ve mindlessly eaten a bag of chips at your desk willing the workday to go by faster?  Both of these examples are types of emotional eating:  eating for reasons other than hunger.  While eating when you’re  hungry addresses a physical need (providing the body with food in order to function), emotional eating uses food to satisfy an emotional need.  Some common causes of emotional eating include stress, anger, boredom and loneliness.    Emotional eating can affect your diabetes management because often the foods eaten are high in sugar, fat and calories.  This can raise blood sugar and make it hard to lose weight.

So how can you tell if you’re eating because you’re hungry or because you’re stressed out?  Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by any type of food. You stop feeling hunger when you have eaten enough to feel full.  Emotional “hunger” comes on very quickly and is focused on a strong craving for a particular food, taste or texture. Emotional eating is also often mindless and can lead to feelings of guilt afterward.

Now that we know the difference between physical and emotional hunger, here are some strategies to help manage emotional eating:

  • Know your triggers – If you know what it is that causes you to eat (e.g. boredom, stress), you can take action to prevent mindless munching before it begins. Use another activity to distract yourself from wanting to eat. Try going for a walk, talking to a friend or loved one, or listening to music.
  • Pause – Before reaching for the bag of chips, stop and think: am I hungry, or am I bored? Wait 10 minutes and see if you are still truly hungry.
  • Eat smaller portions –   If you wait 10 minutes and still can’t stop thinking about those chips, have a smaller, individual portion to keep you from overeating.
  • Practice mindful eating – Slow down and take the time to really enjoy the smell, tastes and textures of your favorite foods. Try not to multi task – make eating your only activity.
  • Seek help if you need it – Emotional eating can sometimes be a symptom of depression or anxiety.  If you feel this may be the case, talk to your healthcare provider, a diabetes educator or a mental health specialist.

Post content reviewed by Jen Searl, MLS, CHWC

Health, Uncategorized

Another “Mini”Relaxation Exercise

Meditation picture

The holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year.”  It’s also the time of year many feel the most stressed! The relaxation response is the body’s natural counter to the stress response.  If you’re feeling holiday stress starting to creep in, take a few minutes to try this mini relaxation breathing exercise from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

INHALE, pause- 1,2,3         EXHALE, pause, 1,2,3

  • After each inhalation, pause and count: 1,2,3 (breath is held in)
  • After each exhalation, pause and count: 1,2,3 (breath is let out)
  • Do this for several breaths.
Health

“Mini” Relaxation Exercise

BetwMeditation pictureeen the snow and problems with public transit, this has been an incredibly stressful two weeks.  The relaxation response is the body’s natural counter to the stress response.  If start feeling stress creeping in, take a few minutes to try this mini relaxation breathing exercise from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine

INHALE, pause- 1,2,3         EXHALE, pause, 1,2,3

  • After each inhalation, pause and count: 1,2,3 (breath is held in)
  • After each exhalation, pause and count: 1,2,3 (breath is let out)
  • Do this for several breaths.
Health

Healthy Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

The holidays are a time of fun and excitement, but they can also be a time of added stress.

While stress is a normal part of life, it can have an impact on diabetes management. Stress hormones can raise blood sugar, and prolonged stress weakens the immune system and interferes with healthy self-care routines.

Stay healthy and enjoy the season with these techniques for managing holiday stress:

  • Prioritize – A common cause of holiday stress is trying to do too much at once. Focus on those things that are most important to you, and don’t be afraid to say “no” to taking on new commitments.
  • Take “time out” (Find a distraction) – Take a break and do something to clear your mind. Spend time with or call friends. Engage in some other activity you enjoy (like a favorite hobby).
  • Get Moving – Exercise is a known stress reducer, and sticking with your regular fitness routine can help with maintaining good blood sugar control. Small steps make a difference! Go for a walk, put on a yoga video or dance to a song on the radio.
  • Relax – Mind-body activities like meditation, deep breathing or positive visualizations elicit the relaxation response, the body’s built-in counter to the stress response.

Losing or maintaining a healthy weight is another source of stress for many during the holidays. The added pressures of the holidays can also contribute to emotional or stress eating (eating for reasons other than hunger). Signs of stress eating can be turning to comfort food after a difficult day, or mindlessly munching on snacks to burn off nervous energy. The downside is many comfort foods are high in sugar (which can raise blood sugar), fat, and calories. Distracted snacking makes it easy to take in more calories than expected. Consider preparing some healthy snacks to have accessible.

The techniques above can help with coping with stress eating as well, but if you’re still craving a crunchy snack or Mom’s Mac and Cheese go ahead and have some – just do so mindfully. Keep track of portion size, and eat slowly so you can really enjoy the food’s taste and texture.

It’s not possible to avoid all stress completely, but one final thing to remember is the holiday season (and the stress that comes along with it) is temporary. Slow down and enjoy the best the season has to offer. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed or think you might be experiencing diabetes burnout, talk to your health care provider or a diabetes educator.

(Post content reviewed by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine)
Blood Pressure, Health, Heart Health

Meditation

It may be easiest to understand what meditation is by first explaining what it is not.  Meditation is not thinking.  It’s seeing, smelling, feeling and experiencing without applying thought.  It is a quieting of the mind where the thinking part of the brain is turned off.  If you’re thinking, you’re not meditating.  Meditation is often viewed as an exotic or foreign activity, but it’s really just using a different part of the brain.

Two of the defining qualities of meditation are focused awareness and a receptive state of mind.  The body was not meant to live in the stress response, yet in this modern world we often find ourselves living in a constant state of low-level stress.  Stress aggravates everything.  It causes inflammation in the body, tightening of the muscles, and interferes with getting good quality sleep (in fact fatigue is the number one symptom of stress).  Turning off the stress response helps encourage broader awareness and adaptability.  There is an expansive feeling in this adaptive state as all the muscles stretch and relax; a feeling of “oneness” or connection to everything and everybody (contrast this with the stress response which is very disconnecting).

A good place to start when beginning a meditation practice is with the breath.  Focusing on the inhale and the exhale develops a moment to moment focus of simply being.  You may also find it helpful to focus on an image, or choose a word or words (or phrase/phrases) to link with the rhythm of your breath.  Observe the sensations you experience mindfully, try not to be too “thinky,” and avoid judgments.  It may be difficult to keep your mind from wandering at first, but a wandering mind is not a sign you can’t meditate – it’s a sign that you need to meditate!  Catching yourself drifting and bringing your attention back to the present moment helps build your meditation practice.

It’s recommended to spend 10-20 minutes in quiet meditation 1-2 times a day.  Maintaining focus for 20 minutes at a time can be challenging in the beginning, but you can slowly work your way up to it.  The more often you practice, the more the brain changes (in a positive way).  Meditating daily for just 20 minutes has been shown to remodel your brain away from stress to more pleasant and steadying states of mind – so you can see, it’s well worth the effort!

(Post written in collaboration with the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine)
Diabetes ABCs

Diabetes ABCs: J

Jokes/Humor

J“Why did the chicken cross the road?”  Diabetes is a full time  job.  There are meals to plan, carbs to count, medications to take, exercise to fit in . . . and that’s on top of everything you have to do for work and family.  It’s a lot to juggle, and a lot of added stress.  At times like these, laughter really is the best medicine.  Find something that makes you laugh – a good joke, a funny movie or a clever YouTube video – and come back to it whenever you need a quick stress buster.

(Content reviewed by MGH Diabetes Center)