PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Stress and anxiety affect the ability to perceive hunger, according to psychiatrists.
Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, is the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center. He also serves as an associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical School. For the past few weeks, he has been posting daily videos about mindfulness to help people with anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic. One video focused on stress and eating.
Dr. Brewer says while many of us may be working from home right now, added stress may play into our eating habits, which could mean overeating, or forgetting to eat altogether.
He says in order to step out of your habits, you first have to be aware of them. After calming yourself, check in and ask yourself a few questions like, ‘Am I really hungry right now?’ or ‘Am I triggered to eat because of stress of anxiety or boredom?’
He acknowledges these issues existed before the pandemic but they can be especially tough to manage now.
“People might have added burdens, whether it’s a spouse or partner that’s at home working. Their kids might be home. Trying to juggle a bunch of different things that they haven’t juggled before,” Brewer said.
He also says while you may see some bare shelves at the grocery store, not to let that scare you.
“We can notice, ‘Oh, my brain’s starting to panic because I’m seeing other people panicking.’ Help ourselves calm down in those moments so that we act and think rationally,” he explained.
Dr. Brewer also says to pay attention to the food you’re reaching for, as well as how much you’re eating.
“What my lab’s actually been studying is, we’re bringing awareness to the act of eating can help decrease the reward value of overeating in the brain relatively quickly,” Brewer said.
Stress can also make you forget to eat all together, and it’s due to an ancient “fight-or-flight response,” according to Brewer.
“A normal, physiologic response to threat is not eating so that our body shunts our blood from our stomach and our digestive organs to our muscles so we can run away,” he explained.
Opting to snack on healthy food instead of junk food can make a big improvement in your eating habits, Brewer added.