Stress and Eating with Brenda Crawford-Clark, MPH, MS

WebMD Live Events Transcript
Event Date: Thursday, October 20, 2005

By Brenda Crawford-Clark, MPH, MS
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

We all know that a frazzled mind can conjure cravings for comfort food in some and kill the appetite in others. And now we hear that stress can affect the amount of fat we produce and the shape we are in. On Oct. 20, 2005 we discussed all of this, plus how to get off the food/stress carousel, with Brenda Crawford-Clark, MPH, MS, author of Body Sense Balancing Your Weight and Emotions.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

This WebMD University course is brought to you by Medical Mutual.

MODERATOR: Welcome to WebMD University: "Letting Go." Your instructor today is Brenda Crawford-Clark, MPH, MS.

Thank you for joining us, Brenda. Before we get started with our questions, why don't you tell us what led you to focus on the connection between weight and emotions in your career, and then writing Body Sense: Balancing Your Weight and Emotions.

CRAWFORD-CLARK: Well, I've been listening to people about problems they have, and many times their emotional issues are tied directly to their weight. I found that you can't treat the emotional issues without figuring out what caused the weight issues, or why someone can't lose weight who's tried so many awful no-carb, no-sugar no-just-about-everything diets.

And so I thought everyone would benefit from my sharing what I've learned over the years. That weight issues are often not about dieting at all -- almost never about willpower -- because people who've been on a diet know they've had more willpower than most people.

So Body Sense, my book, just takes people through the same path they would take if they were in a one-on-one session with me. We connect the emotions, help them through that, find out what use food has had in their life, and finally, give them the tools for a steady long-term change to keep the weight off.

MODERATOR: How does our emotional state affect the way we eat?

CRAWFORD-CLARK: Wow! I was eating a snack right before I started to talk with you today. Do you ever notice reaching for food when you're under stress or forgetting to eat when you're under stress?

Food is used to alter our emotions and almost everyone uses it at some time in their life. Cookies can really make you feel better. Other foods help people push down anger and can actually give someone a sense of control or power.

Once you do eat the food it triggers neurotransmitter actions that actually can send a calming message or an empowering message or satisfied signal to your body. That's why the whole weight issue is so much more complex than counting calories or carbs.

I figure something must be very wrong if 167 million adults are on a diet right now and most are repeaters who've tried almost everything. It just points out, again, that getting to a healthy weight is not just about willpower, but also understanding more about yourself and getting your needs met in healthy ways.

MODERATOR: Many of us eat when we're happy, when we're angry, when we're frustrated or overworked. Eating seems to be a "one size fits all" coping tool for Americans. How has this affected the health of our country?

CRAWFORD-CLARK: Well, you probably can't go to the bookstore or grocery store without seeing a magazine that is promoting a new weight loss promise. Almost every day you see a new story or advertisement on television.

And people are getting very frustrated because obviously being overweight not only affects your emotions, but it contributes to major health risks, such as heart problems, hypertension, diabetes, and increases your risk for health problems should you need a surgery of any kind.

We also have a generation of children who are beginning to obsess about their weight as early as 5 years old. I saw a little girl in my office recently who was crying herself to sleep every night because her grandmother continuously focused on her weight.

But many parents have a right to be concerned because the number of children with childhood obesity is directly increasing the number of children with diabetes. Undoubtedly weight contributes to many aspects of our physical health.

MODERATOR: We see more information every day on childhood obesity. What can parents do to help their children avoid falling into the trap of overeating?

CRAWFORD-CLARK: I'd recommend two things:

  • First and probably most important, don't become the food cop.
  • Second, be aware of what you're modeling for your child. If you're constantly on a diet or concerned about your weight, your child will gain that obsession and that obsession doesn't necessarily mean they're going to stay a healthy weight, it can actually drive someone to eat more.

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