When we are calm it becomes so much easier to be in control and make wise decisions about what, when and how much we eat
It is a common belief that food intake and metabolism are the prevailing factors that determine our weight. But research has shown that stress adversely affects both our eating habits and our ability to produce cortisol. This is the hormone responsible for providing our body with energy so that we can perform adequately during times of increased tension.
Impact of sleep on eating
According to sleep experts, we need 7-8 hours of sleep a day. When we sleep less than needed, we have low energy levels and consequently reach out for carbohydrates, which are considered a form of nutritional self-medication. When we are tired, we also feel more vulnerable when dealing with day-to-day activities – as a result, sometimes even minor difficulties cause us to get angry, anxious or even depressed.
In his book Food, eating and obesity, David J. Mela identifies what he describes as the ‘significant influences of mood on eating and of eating on mood’.
We know that in life, threatening situations can occur almost daily, but often it is all down to our perception. During times of stress, animals naturally reject food to help them avoid any distractions from potential danger. Humans, on the other hand, tend to increase food intake and the main reason for this is self-medication.
Effect of hormones
When we are overwhelmed by a situation and feel threatened, our body releases adrenaline and cortisol, also known as ‘the belly-fat hormone’. The right amount of cortisol is good, as it also helps us to think and react quickly and sharply. This is especially important if we are in danger or if our work environment demands it. But, if our stress levels are high over a prolonged period of time, then this increase in cortisol may cause us to lose intellectual control over more and more areas of our life.
During times of stress our body also reduces the amount of dopamine and serotonin we produce. These are known as the ‘happy hormones’, so consequently we start seeking substitutes for this loss. One of these substitutes is food. But unfortunately, we can derive pleasure from food only up to a certain extent as our dopamine receptors then become desensitised to it.
How to get on top of things
We’ve all had moments in life when we were upset and someone would tell us: ‘Sleep on it. Tomorrow you will see things differently.’ They were right. We would wake up the next day and things just didn’t feel so overwhelming. Sleep, or more specifically rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is our coping mechanism.
REM constitutes 20% of our sleep pattern and allows us to process the events of our day in a literal and a symbolic way. REM sleep removes the emotional charge that is attached to these events so they become just a narrative memory. By doing so, it enables us to wake up the next day feeling refreshed and able to cope with things more easily and effectively. Interestingly, it also encourages us to produce the satiety hormone – leptin – which helps let us eat the right amounts.
So we can see that nature has already given us all the tools for coping successfully in this world. Hypnotherapy is another of these tools.
Hypnotherapy activates the same REM sleep responsible for processing our unresolved emotions. Consequently, it reduces the build up of stress and alleviates the physiological processes that were prompting us to medicate ourselves with food. By regaining intellectual control we become empowered to identify any undesirable habits and triggers for these. We are then better able to achieve positive expectations about ourselves looking great, reaching an ideal weight and establishing a healthy relationship with food.