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Stress-related eating and gastrointestinal disorders

    Stress can have various effects on eating problems and weight management.

Stress is related to weight gain and obesity. In some people who are exposed to prolonged stress, weight gain can occur even with a healthy diet.

People tend to report overeating and “comfort eating” foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories when stressed. And because the stress hormone cortisol plays a role in metabolism and fat storage, there are plausible biological mechanisms behind a possible link between stress and putting on weight.

Eating comfort foods appears to reduce the negative hormonal and behavioural changes associated with stress, which might lessen the impact of stress on an individual. The brain and intestines are closely related. Indeed, some research suggests that the gut itself has features of a primitive brain. It is not surprising then that prolonged stress can disrupt the digestive system, irritating the large intestine and causing diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and bloating.

Irritable bowel syndrome (or spastic colon) is strongly related to stress. With this condition, the large intestine becomes irritated, and its muscular contractions are spastic rather than smooth and wave-like. The abdomen is bloated, and the patient experiences cramping and alternating periods of constipation and diarrhea. Sleep disturbances due to stress can make irritable bowel syndrome even worse.

By releasing stress and anxiety, your body creates a loop of positive feedback through the autonomic nervous system. This feedback can lead to significant improvement in symptoms of your stress and anxiety related eating and gastrointestinal issue.

When it comes to a fractured bone, the standard medical approach is to align and immobilize the bone and then let it heal. Because this approach to a broken bone, always works. When dealing with chronic anxiety or stress, neuro-linguistic-programming, EFT, art-therapy, mindfulness, yoga, craniosacral therapy, gravity blanket, mini-horses therapy and many other approaches, based on very contradictory scientific models are available to tackle the problem.

Yet, the empirical approach in somatic hypnotherapy is the only one to support its promise to uproot and winnow away stress, anxiety and emotional trauma with not only the guarantee of "no cure - no pay" but with the promise of experiencing your good results on the spot. Because just like the antivenom that reacts almost instantly if it is the right one, you will experience the good results of your somatic hypnosis immediately after your session.

The following eating and gastrointestinal disorders may be aggravated, triggered or caused by anxiety and stress, or may be conditions for which you may be at increased risk if you are exposed to prolonged or intense anxiety and stress.

Anorexia "Many people who develop anorexia share certain personality and behavioural traits that may make them more likely to develop the condition. These include: a tendency towards depression and anxiety, finding it hard to handle stress, excessive worrying and feeling scared or doubtful about the future, pressures and stress at school, such as exams or bullying, particularly teasing about body weight or shape, a stressful life event, such as losing a job, the breakdown of a relationship or bereavement "

Stress and Emotional Eating : “Emotional eating is a way many people cope with negative feelings such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, stress, and boredom. We consume unhealthy foods or unhealthy amounts of food to hide negative thoughts and feelings.”

Bulimia Nervosa "The essential features are binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior such as fasting, vomiting, using laxatives, or exercising to prevent weight gain. Binge eating is typically triggered by dysphoric mood states, interpersonal stressors, intense hunger following dietary restraints, or negative feelings related to body weight, shape, and food. Patients are typically ashamed of their eating problems, and binge eating usually occurs in secrecy. Unlike anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa patients are typically within normal weight range and restrict their total caloric consumption between binges."

Binge Eating Disorder "You use food to cope with stress and other negative emotions, even though afterwards you feel even worse. You may feel like you're stuck in a vicious cycle, but binge eating disorder is treatable. With the right help and support, you can learn to control your eating and develop a healthy relationship with food."

How stress causes belly fat. "Stress can have a negative effect on where fat is being stored. Stress is known to be bad for blood pressure, our heart, our skin and our memory. Due to new research, belly fat can be added to that list. Stress can have a negative effect on where fat is being stored. Once chronic stress kicks in, it causes hormone changes and redirects fat to the belly."

Stress Diarrhoea and Constipation : “There are several forms of IBS, including IBS-D (IBS that causes diarrhea) and IBS-C (which causes constipation), and stress is often a trigger that can bring on symptoms. The same thing can happen in people with an inflammatory bowel disease, like Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. In these cases, a person's digestive tract, colon, or rectum is already prone to inflammation, and stress can add to that inflammation and bring on symptoms”

Eating Disorder "People with untreated anxiety disorders are prone to developing eating problems like anorexia and bulimia. When people develop eating disorders, it isn't really about food. Anorexia or bulimia can usually be traced to an underlying emotional issue, where control over food or food as comfort is a way to self-treat. Often, the condition that leads to restricting food or binging and purging is really anxiety."

Stressed? Listen to your gut. "Stress can trigger health problems like acidity and heartburn. According to a 2011 article titled “Stress And The Gut: Pathophysiology, Clinical Consequences, Diagnostic Approach And Treatment Options” in the journal Physiology And Pharmacology, stress has both short- and long-term effects on the gastrointestinal tract. Exposure to stress results in alterations of the brain-gut interactions, ultimately leading to the development of a broad array of gastrointestinal disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other functional gastrointestinal diseases, food antigen-related adverse responses, peptic ulcer and gastroesophageal reflux disease."

Stress link to IBS and other functional gastrointestinal disorders: "University of Newcastle honours student Jessica Bruce has discovered the way stress might be triggering the symptoms of gut diseases, particularly functional dyspepsia. Through her research at the University of Newcastle, Ms Bruce has made a link between stress and immune changes that can lead to symptoms such as constipation, bloating, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea."

Irritable bowel is associated with stress and anxiety.When you’re stressed you might experience abdominal pains, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome already, being stressed can worsen the symptoms. This is because the digestive system is controlled by the nervous system – the mediator of stress. As already noted, the body’s response to stress involves the release of a range of hormones. These hormones can alter digestion in complex ways and can alter water intake to the digestive system in some way that either slows food (constipation) or pushes food too quickly through the digestive tract (diarrhoea).”

Studies show a strong connection between ulcerative colitis and stress. "For people with ulcerative colitis, stress may bring on a painful and unpleasant flare. Being exposed to extreme stress causes a fivefold increase in the risk of a relapse of ulcerative colitis the next day, according to a recent study involving 60 people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) published in the journal Gastroenterology Research. Stress, bad mood, and major life events are also associated with flares of IBDs, according to another study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology".

Overweight, Obesity  "Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are associated with both eating disorders and obesity. A person may binge or overeat for emotional reasons, including stress, depression, and anxiety. Adolescents who are depressed may be at an increased risk of becoming obese. One recent study found that depressed adolescents were two times more likely to become obese at the one year follow up than teens who did not suffer from depression. In addition, many people with eating disorders suffer from clinical depression, anxiety, personality or substance abuse disorders, or in some cases obsessive compulsive disorder."

How stress can make you overweight: "Stress causes a fat generating cell known as Adamts1 to produce more fat cells around internal organs, a study has found. Weight gain from stress isn't just due to comfort eating, as feeling under pressure causes our bodies to build up more fat, new research has discovered. After a hectic day it's not unusual to treat yourself to a bar of chocolate or a cheeky takeaway to relieve strain. However, even without these luxuries we're at risk of putting on the pounds as it's been found that stress triggers a fat generating cell called Adamts1"

Your stress can add inches to your spouse’s waist: "Stress isn’t good for you, but it’s not good for your spouse, either. For older married couples, one spouse’s long-term stress can cause the other’s weight gain. Researchers looked at how the negative quality of marriage can be detrimental for weight gain—possibly leading to obesity—when couples 50 and older are stressed. The results varied by gender. The study specifically focused on chronic stress, which is an ongoing circumstance occurring for more than a year and threatens to overwhelm an individual’s resources, such as financial problems, difficulties at work, or long-term caregiving."

Chronic stress may raise obesity risk "These results provide consistent evidence that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity. People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death." - Dr. Sarah Jackson

Obesity "The causes of obesity are rarely limited to genetic factors, prolonged overeating or a sedentary lifestyle. What we do and don't do often results from how we think and feel. For example, feelings of sadness, anxiety or stress often lead people to eat more than usual. Unless you act to address these emotions, however, these short-term coping strategies can lead to long-term problems."

Stress may undermine your diet: Stress could undo some of your healthy food choices, a new study suggests. Stressful events from the day before appear to eradicate any health benefits a person might have gained from choosing a breakfast rich in “good” monounsaturated fats, as opposed to a breakfast loaded with “bad” saturated fats, Ohio State University researchers found

Indigestion (Dyspepsia, Upset Stomach) "Have you noticed cramping, tightness and fluttering in your stomach during  stressful situations ? Nervous stomach is usually reported by people when they are in situations of stress or anxiety. The digestive system is susceptible to emotional changes, stress, anxiety and depression."

Heartburn (Acid Reflux) "This study provides evidence of a strong dose-response association between anxiety, stress and depression and an increased risk of reflux symptoms, while no consistent association was observed between covert coping and reflux symptoms. Our finding of positive associations between anxiety and depression and increased risks of reflux symptoms is consistent with some previous cross-sectional population-based studies of smaller sample sizes and with hospital-based studies"

Stomach aches from anxiety, stress "Stress can affect kids as young as two or three years old and cause a wide range of stomach issues from tummy aches to diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation. As many as 10 percent of school-age kids have stomach pain with no identified cause or diagnosis. What’s important is distinguishing whether your child is actually sick with a virus or if it is a recurring issue due to stress."

Phantom stomachaches due to anxiety.Anxiety can mess with your belly’s regularly scheduled programming. “Normally when you start eating, the proximal stomach is going to relax so the stomach can act as a reservoir to accommodate all the incoming food.” But when you have anxiety, the stomach doesn’t relax, which can cause aches and pains. Additionally, anxiety and pain are pretty circuitous: If you’re anxious, that anxiety can make your stomach hurt—and then you can also experience anxiety about your stomach hurting in general. It’s basically a stressful, never-ending cycle.”

Stress and the Microbiome: Prolonged stress triggers unfavorable shifts in bacterial composition and diversity. Men are particularly vulnerable to the health effects of long-term stress. It's well known that stress can tip the scales in favor of conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, headaches and obesity. What you may not know is the gut microbiome can also become seriously injured, having a ripple effect throughout the body and a huge impact on overall well-being. The gut microbiome is the collection of trillions of bacteria living in the intestine. These tiny beings are responsible for many of the health benefits we have come to rely upon for optimal function. In a healthy environment, the intestine is teeming with a variety of different strains of organisms contributing to the overall balance of the ecology. This balance is particularly important because bacteria are directly involved in key processes such as immune function, mood regulation, intestinal health, digestion, caloric extraction, bowel function, protection from pathogens and even vitamin and nutrient production.  While a positive balance of such bacteria can ensure these functions are performed at the highest level, imbalances can wreak havoc on just about every system of the body.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) "Stress may play a sygnificant role in triggering a person's irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, symptoms. This doesn’t mean that IBS is purely 'in the mind. Psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety can cause chemical changes in the body that can affect processes like those that occur in the digestive system.
The discomfort, inconvenience and pain from IBS can also affect a person's mental health, with around three out of four people with IBS experiencing depression at some stage, and half having the unease and worry of generalised anxiety disorder."


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Disclaimer: The above content is intended for general informational purposes and does not constitute any psychological or other medical professional advice. I don't diagnose conditions, nor do I interfere with any treatments given by your medical professional.

*The results may vary from person to person.

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