6

votes

You're stressed. Is your natural inclination to binge or to fast? And should you go against it?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created February 16, 2013 at 6:47 PM

Two part question! It seems that most people's appetite changes when under stress. I don't think binge eating or fasting is optimal, but our bodies or minds tend to go one way or the other as a reaction to higher-than-usual amounts of stress.

Me, I'm a faster. I have always been a relatively light eater, but when I'm stressed, as I have been lately, my appetite goes considerably down. I don't usually track calories, since I'm not really trying to change my weight, but I have been lately because I'm concerned I'm not eating enough. On days that I work, I'm not hitting the 800 calorie mark. On days I don't work, I generally eat another meal, but I'm still not hitting the 1100 calorie mark. And yes, that is counting everything, down to the 10 calories of broth and the 6 calories in a clove of garlic. I have lost a little bit of weight, but I still weigh plenty enough to be healthy (about 5'6" and 135 pounds, no history of eating disorders). I still have plenty of energy, though I can't tell if it's normal energy or anxious energy.

Firstly, What is your natural inclination - pig out, or pick at your food?

Secondly, is it a good idea to go against your natural inclination? If you're a binger, should you try to curb your appetite and eat as you normally would, or a maximum number of calories? If you're a faster, should you try and force yourself to eat as you normally would, or a minimum number of calories?

Medium avatar

(572)

on February 24, 2013
at 01:40 PM

Me too. It's tripping me up left and right lately.

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 03:03 PM

To get back to question, I'm unsure exactly how long deleterious effects would kick in from undereating. Perhaps it's easier to eat more liquid calories/more energy dense things as you have suggested, rather than 'undereat' for sustained periods. Very interesting quesiton though!

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 03:00 PM

/accumulating more weight. I think I've read Lyle McDonald say something to people who try to lose weight to not go maintain too large a deficit (50%?) as this will have deleterious effects on metabolic rate, immune system, overall well being etc.

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 02:57 PM

Hi, I don't know what I think, is a difficult question ;). If one supplements wisely while undereating and doesn't lose weight, I daresay there wouldn't be major problems in the short term (a month?). The main problem I can envisage there being would relate to losing lean mass... As well, I try to eat enough so as to avoid lowering metabolic rate, such that when I do get an appetite again (and hopefully I can change things etc such that the stress isn't very debilitating in general), the body won't hang onto Under eating for a long time though might lead to the body hanging on to fat stores

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 17, 2013
at 02:44 AM

Thanks, that is reassuring! I may be being a bit of a nervous nelly about this. (Forgive me, I'm not generally a hypochondriac!) It just kinda reminds me of my ulcer days, though not nearly as extreme, but I know stress is a factor in ulcer formation and sometimes it's hard to tell which is cause and which is effect. But yes - I try to maximize my nutrients in what I do eat, like with chicken liver pate, sardines, starches, and get in as many liquid calories as I can.

E253f8ac1d139bf4d0bfb44debd1db21

on February 17, 2013
at 01:28 AM

Anything in the extreme - either over or under-eating - stands to bring us out of homeostasis and eventually into disease. Personally I think it's better to under eat rather than the opposite and if you've developed a reward system then that means its easier for you. There's lots of scientific evidence that intermittent fasting is hormetic. Also with your considerable knowledge on nutrition you would know when and what you need to eat if you haven't for a while :)

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 17, 2013
at 12:02 AM

That's a good point about the reward! But what about the "high" that you can get from fasting? I find that I am very susceptible to the that energized feeling from being unfed, and I worry that perhaps that's becoming a reward in itself (obviously not consciously, since I'm not doing this on purpose) on a subconscious or purely physical level?

15dfddb2195385569014b970890b12ad

(120)

on February 16, 2013
at 11:23 PM

I'm the same...

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 10:53 PM

That's a good point! I feel like I can always tolerate liquids. If I try and force feed myself solids, I feel sick, but brothy soup, coffee with cream and sugar, and glasses of milk always seem to go down fine.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 10:52 PM

If I could accept my fasting, it would make grocery shopping easier. Instead, I end up wasting a lot, because I want to eat it, I intend on eating, so I buy it, but then I end up not wanting to actually eat. :/

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:59 PM

Right an inline with what Nemesis says, I would RECOMMEND eating carbs, as they're the only macro nutrient that actually reduces cortisol upon consumption.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:15 PM

Thanks for your answer! I agree that in the short-term, lowered calorie intake is more positive than negative, even in the non-overweight individual, provided their weight doesn't sink too low. Follow-up question for you, though: what do you consider short-term? If you're stressed and eating very little for one week, two weeks, a month... at what point does it start to have negative effects that can't countered by eating more calories when you feel more relaxed? (In your opinion, of course!)

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:15 PM

I do notice that even though my overall calorie intake has gone down, my carbs have gone up! Yesterday, I ate around 1000 calories, but 75g carbs. It definitely skews my usual ratio! It wasn't sugary carbs, though (I ate one dark chocolate truffle, the rest was hominy grits and white rice).

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10 Answers

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3
Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

on February 16, 2013
at 07:03 PM

In periods of acute stress I have a tendency to lose appetite. I don't like to eat when stressed/recovering from stress where there is residual tension, so usually don't eat and wait until I'm hungry. This can often take a while (cortisol releases glucose into the blood stream so one can get very 'energised'!). Depending on teh timing this sometimes means I go to bed and bed and eat sometime the next day; like I said I'm reticent to eat where I don't have an appetite.

Re your second question, I think that in the case of fasting one need not fight the inclination, but generally only if the 'lost calories' are largely compensated for later, so as ensure adequate nutritional and metabolic status is maintained. In the case of binging, while it may help to relieve stress, I am of the view that it really only makes things worse. Porblems won't be addressed and one arguably feels much the worse for it. Fasting for short periods in contrast is a short term thing that doens't have much (relatively) in terms of downsides, as long as one eats enough, eventually.

Of course ideally the stress wouldn't be there and regular patterns could be maintained, but alas, life is so often full of 'dukkha'...

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 03:00 PM

/accumulating more weight. I think I've read Lyle McDonald say something to people who try to lose weight to not go maintain too large a deficit (50%?) as this will have deleterious effects on metabolic rate, immune system, overall well being etc.

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 02:57 PM

Hi, I don't know what I think, is a difficult question ;). If one supplements wisely while undereating and doesn't lose weight, I daresay there wouldn't be major problems in the short term (a month?). The main problem I can envisage there being would relate to losing lean mass... As well, I try to eat enough so as to avoid lowering metabolic rate, such that when I do get an appetite again (and hopefully I can change things etc such that the stress isn't very debilitating in general), the body won't hang onto Under eating for a long time though might lead to the body hanging on to fat stores

Eed7dabde3d61910685845e04605267f

(2934)

on February 17, 2013
at 03:03 PM

To get back to question, I'm unsure exactly how long deleterious effects would kick in from undereating. Perhaps it's easier to eat more liquid calories/more energy dense things as you have suggested, rather than 'undereat' for sustained periods. Very interesting quesiton though!

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:15 PM

Thanks for your answer! I agree that in the short-term, lowered calorie intake is more positive than negative, even in the non-overweight individual, provided their weight doesn't sink too low. Follow-up question for you, though: what do you consider short-term? If you're stressed and eating very little for one week, two weeks, a month... at what point does it start to have negative effects that can't countered by eating more calories when you feel more relaxed? (In your opinion, of course!)

6
2ad0d53ee3811fedf3e77535cd22dd6a

on February 16, 2013
at 08:16 PM

Mild stress (and a little tired) = total binge Often happens when work gets busy, impending deadlines, etc.

Extreme stress (breakups, family or friend's health concerns, etc.) = total fast, very hard time eating.

15dfddb2195385569014b970890b12ad

(120)

on February 16, 2013
at 11:23 PM

I'm the same...

Medium avatar

(572)

on February 24, 2013
at 01:40 PM

Me too. It's tripping me up left and right lately.

4
A2c38be4c54c91a15071f82f14cac0b3

(12682)

on February 16, 2013
at 08:35 PM

My appetite totally crashes, but I tend to have increased cravings for salt and sugar. I usually feel better when I oblige these cravings, so that's the kind of stuff I reach for. Salty bone broth and sugary tea is my favorite stress meal (mmm this is making me crave pho right now). From my reading this can be helpful to cortisol levels.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 10:53 PM

That's a good point! I feel like I can always tolerate liquids. If I try and force feed myself solids, I feel sick, but brothy soup, coffee with cream and sugar, and glasses of milk always seem to go down fine.

4
Fd7b128cf714044a86d8bd822c7a8992

(4292)

on February 16, 2013
at 08:27 PM

Binge, definitely. When I get emotional, the first thing I want to do is reach for anything sugar that's nearby.

I try to compromise - I know I'm shoving food in my mouth to distract me from [upsetting thing x] and not because I'm actually hungry, so I pick a food that won't hurt me even in large amounts and let myself eat it until I feel sick. Something like spinach or celery or lettuce. Then I get the satisfaction of the physical motion of eating, but don't have to deal with being sick to my stomach from ice cream or pizza.

I really wish I were a faster and not a binger; it would make grocery shopping so much easier.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 10:52 PM

If I could accept my fasting, it would make grocery shopping easier. Instead, I end up wasting a lot, because I want to eat it, I intend on eating, so I buy it, but then I end up not wanting to actually eat. :/

4
0abbec29fdcc092e969885ad70aa4c11

on February 16, 2013
at 07:53 PM

Binge, absolutely binge. Maybe not in the moment, I mean it isn't like someone takes a swing at me and I think "damn, I want pizza" but in general.....

3
4b979a4187c491b79c1476d565d57b3c

on February 16, 2013
at 09:37 PM

Hey there, Luckie,

Awesome question! Without any hesitation, I know that my first instinct would be to binge. I don't even need to be stressed to the max to feel the first inkling of the urge -- moderate stress or even mere boredom is enough to trigger it for me.

With regards to the second part of your question, I will first attempt to ignore the urge by distracting myself with something: I'll call up a friend or one of my parents, make a cup of tea, read a book, take the dog for a walk, etc. After years of struggling with bingeing, I've come to learn that food cravings due to a sudden emotional spike often dissipate within a matter of minutes. Should my distraction work and the urge fades, success!

If it doesn't fade, however: (i.) maybe it's lunch or dinnertime, and I'm actually hungry and will go make myself a nice Paleo meal. (ii.) If it's not lunch or dinnertime, experience has taught me that it is still not good to deny yourself. In the past when I was much less healthier, I would deny for as long as I could stand to, and then when the urge to snack became strong enough, I would let it all go and grab the closest thing in the fridge/pantry and wreak havoc upon it (and, consequently, myself.) I'm glad that part of my life is over!

Nowadays, having learned to become a healthy eater, I find that the best thing to do when I get like this is to go ahead and have a little something. The great thing I have going for me is that I haven't bought junk/processed foods for years, only whole foods. Treats with a proper amount of good fat usually does the trick for me: maybe I'll go for for a celery stick with almond butter, measure out a quarter-cup of mixed nuts or dried berries, or perhaps if I really wish to indulge, a square of 90% dark chocolate.

So in the end, I give in -- but only a little bit, and that seems to do the trick. :)

3
1d0497f8781845ab371b479455bfee8e

(11157)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:56 PM

If it's work-stress (non-stop busy day), I prefer to sleep or tune out with some music first, then eat later. I tend to go for the carbs when I eat, but I usually don't go too overboard.

2
E253f8ac1d139bf4d0bfb44debd1db21

on February 16, 2013
at 11:54 PM

Food is a reward. That's how our brains perceive it anyway since we get all sorts of pleasure centers activated upon eating (or even thinking about or anticipating food).

During stress there are two strategies that can be employed - forgo the reward until the problem is solved (or at least decided on how to deal with it), or reduce the stress by providing a reward in the interim.

Which category would you think is better?

Which category would you prefer to be in?

Which category are you in?

Luckie, we know which one you're in. I think it's a good category.

I think your body will tell o when it's ready to eat. Sometimes a little cajoling such as the scent of a freshly cooked meal can help.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 17, 2013
at 12:02 AM

That's a good point about the reward! But what about the "high" that you can get from fasting? I find that I am very susceptible to the that energized feeling from being unfed, and I worry that perhaps that's becoming a reward in itself (obviously not consciously, since I'm not doing this on purpose) on a subconscious or purely physical level?

E253f8ac1d139bf4d0bfb44debd1db21

on February 17, 2013
at 01:28 AM

Anything in the extreme - either over or under-eating - stands to bring us out of homeostasis and eventually into disease. Personally I think it's better to under eat rather than the opposite and if you've developed a reward system then that means its easier for you. There's lots of scientific evidence that intermittent fasting is hormetic. Also with your considerable knowledge on nutrition you would know when and what you need to eat if you haven't for a while :)

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 17, 2013
at 02:44 AM

Thanks, that is reassuring! I may be being a bit of a nervous nelly about this. (Forgive me, I'm not generally a hypochondriac!) It just kinda reminds me of my ulcer days, though not nearly as extreme, but I know stress is a factor in ulcer formation and sometimes it's hard to tell which is cause and which is effect. But yes - I try to maximize my nutrients in what I do eat, like with chicken liver pate, sardines, starches, and get in as many liquid calories as I can.

2
F5a0ddffcf9ef5beca864050f090a790

(15515)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:03 PM

Luckie, I think it is natural not to eat during stress. However, and Sally Fallon explained that, when people are stressed the first vitamin that goes is vitamin A. I believe it has something to do with brain and gut connection. Our parasympathetic nervous system (okay, I have no idea actually but it sounds cool) reacts in this way to protect us from further damage.

However, for people with compromised guts (like me with SIBO) our bacteria gets more food than our bodies. So we feel it from both ends - our bacteria takes our vitamins AND our vitamins get depleted at the same time. And the answer is... chocolate!

People start craving fermentable sweets - chocolate, ice-cream, desserts, candy. The carbier, the better.

That's my theory. Not sure. I am a choco-ice-cream-holic.

61f9349ad28e3c42d1cec58ba4825a7d

(10480)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:15 PM

I do notice that even though my overall calorie intake has gone down, my carbs have gone up! Yesterday, I ate around 1000 calories, but 75g carbs. It definitely skews my usual ratio! It wasn't sugary carbs, though (I ate one dark chocolate truffle, the rest was hominy grits and white rice).

0
1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

on February 16, 2013
at 07:39 PM

Your reaction to stress is a self preservation coping mechanism. You should only try to go against it if it ends up causing you further stress/problems, instead of alleviating them.

If it does cause further problems, your coping mechanism isn't working. You shouldn't do the polar opposite, but try to get back to homeostasis (what's normal for you). The bad part is that if your coping mechanism (restricting calories) is causing further problems and not alleviating the original stressor, then chances are you've spent significant time doing this so that a new problem (anorexia) had time to emerge. In that time you've formed a now counterproductive habit, of which you'll have to expend considerable energy breaking free of.

If it doesn't cause further problems, chances are it has done its job and allowed you to cope efficiently, and you'll have returned to homeostasis in no time. Well done.

Oh and having had a history of anorexia, when I get unusually stressed I already know that restricting calories isn't really an effective coping mechanism for me. It makes me worse off. So, although it is my instinct to restrict calories when i'm stressed, I try to remind myself to eat and take extra good care of myself during that time in order not to reacquaint myself again with bad habits, which have an inordinately large influence precisely during the times when one is stressed/vulnerable.

1edb06ded9ccf098a4517ca4a7a34ebc

(14952)

on February 16, 2013
at 07:59 PM

Right an inline with what Nemesis says, I would RECOMMEND eating carbs, as they're the only macro nutrient that actually reduces cortisol upon consumption.

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