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Don't let the economy negatively affect your waistline

The current economic crisis has done a great deal to increase stress across the country.

From average folks worrying about their next paycheck to top financial executives worrying about their next bailout, our current economic problems have most of us feeling more anxious.

Unfortunately, many people react to high stress levels by turning more to something we all find comforting – food. It’s called “stress eating” because it feeds an emotional rather than a physical hunger.

We do it because food, especially sweet things, triggers emotional and chemical reactions in our bodies that do make us feel better, though only for a sort time (then it’s time for another snack).

Stress eating is a problem because it’s one of the most common sources of excessive weight gain, something that can directly impact our self-image and health.

So instead of reaching for that donut the next time the stock market is tumbling, look for alternative ways to handle the stress.

Start by being more aware of what’s triggering your eating. Are you snacking because you’re physically hungry or simply because you’re stressed or bored or unhappy?

If emotions have you eating, try to find activities besides eating that can help calm you. Exercise, for example, can be very effective.

From gym workouts to quick walks around the block, exercise boosts the action of feel-good neurotransmitters in your body. Plus, it burns calories and actually makes you physically healthier.

Other stress busters, like reading a book or listening to music or calling a friend, can also be alternatives to food you don’t really need. But if you really can’t survive without a snack, make it one that’s good for you.

Foods high in sugar and calories may quickly elevate good feelings but also lead to a sharp emotional crash as sugar levels drop. Fight that with a piece of fruit instead of a donut.

Try snacking on veggie sticks with low-calorie dressing. Have them handy for when hunger strikes. And, instead of that high-sugar, high-calorie soda or energy drink, have a glass of water.

Eating in response to stress is a common problem but one that’s fixable.

Think about why you’re eating and what you could do instead to help you feel calmer and more relaxed without resorting to food.

Sometimes just being more aware of stress eating can do a great deal to minimize the problem.

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