Many dieters will see themselves in the portraits of overeaters presented in “The Stress-Eating Cure,” by Rachael F. Heller and Richard F. Heller, authors of the popular “Carbohydrate Addict” books.
The Hellers write in their new book about the anxiety-induced stress eater, the task-avoiding stress eater, the person who eats on the sly. They describe people whose overeating is triggered by social situations, those who eat to reward themselves for self-sacrifice and others who eat on the run, barely tasting their food.
The 11 types of stress eaters they identify have something in common, they say: Their overeating, cravings and weight gain are caused not by a lack of discipline and willpower but by a hormonal imbalance.
Unlike those whose bodies produce the right amount of hormones in the face of unpleasant circumstances, stress eaters -- who often are more sensitive to their environments -- respond to stress with “trigger-quick” hormonal reactions, the Hellers say. The hormones at play are ghrelin, serotonin, oxytocin and leptin as well as insulin, cortisol and adrenaline.
Each type of stress eater is prone to surges and deficiencies in these hormones in different combinations, the authors say. The Hellers offer a diet they say will help bring these hormones back into balance and relieve stress, plus behavioral modification programs that are tailored to each type.
Their multi-step diet is similar to those offered by many authors in the “your hormones are making you fat” camp (as well as others). They recommend eating a big breakfast, limiting “comfort foods” (starches, sweets, fruits, alcohol and saturated fats) and including protein in every meal and snack and non-starchy vegetables at lunch and dinner.
Their personalized behavior plans, or “cures,” for each type are nicely done, with useful ideas for regaining emotional balance -- whether you follow the hormonal connection or not.
For example, for the person who seeks out rich, high-fat foods to counteract the frustration they feel with the world’s inadequacies, they suggest instead a massage, a good talk with a friend, an act of kindness or time spent listening to pleasurable music. These things, they say, will reduce adrenaline and boost oxytocin, replacing feelings of aggression and power with those of comfort and connectiveness.
The Hellers have a personal connection to their subject that lends an empathetic and nonjudgmental tone to their writing.
Rachael Heller describes her “carbohydrate addiction” that had her once topping 300 pounds. Though she lost nearly 200 pounds, she still struggled with food cravings, she writes. This new stress-eating program, developed over a decade, was a breakthrough. The Hellers write that they are happy, healthy and slim living with it today.
-- Anne Colby
Photo: "The Stress-Eating Cure," Dr. Rachael F. Heller and Dr. Richard F. Heller, Rodale, $24.99