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If you’re a political junkie trying to stay healthy during this election season, there’s nothing like two weeks of back-to-back political conventions with high drama and high stakes to throw you off your program and make you fat.

stress eating

Don't Let Politics Make You Fat—Treva Brandon Scharf

Have you fallen off your diet from too much convention coverage? Politics can do that to you.

The hyped-up commentary, the protests and punditry, division and debate, not to mention watching Chris Matthews 24/7, can only lead to one thing: stress eating.

And by stress eating, I don’t mean stuffing your face with kale; I mean shoving the most caloric, fattening, least healthy food you can find down your throat because, according to studies, that’s what your brain craves when you’re in a heightened state of anxiety.

It’s not your imagination—there’s a reason you crave Krispy Kremes instead of kale when you’re stressing out.

Extensive research has been conducted on how stress influences brain chemistry and inhibits the ability to maintain control and make healthful food choices. The culprit, it appears, is cortisol.

“There’s no immediate reward to eating kale,” says Dr. Mike Roussell, Ph.D. “When stress is wearing you thin, your brain seeks out chemicals associated with high-carb foods. Something like rich, gooey mac ‘n’ cheese has a pleasurable effect that kale won’t produce.”

Extensive research has been conducted on how stress influences brain chemistry and inhibits the ability to maintain control and make healthful food choices. The culprit, it appears, is cortisol.

If politics didn’t already mess with your mind, cortisol definitely will.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that’s produced from cholesterol in the two adrenal glands located on top of each kidney. It’s normally released in response to events such as waking up in the morning, exercising, and acute stress. Along with epinephrine, it’s known as the “fight or flight” hormone. We need it, but when cortisol is chronically elevated, it can have deleterious effects on weight gain, immune function, and disease risk.

Cortisol can wreak havoc not just on the body, but also on the way different parts of the brain communicate with each other. It strengthens the pleasure centers that detect tastiness, while weakening the areas that manage value judgments and decision-making.

This is why we can’t help ourselves when we reach for the Kettle Chips during times of stress—we know it’s bad, but the brain wants what it wants!

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In my case, it’s not the stress eating that did me in, it was the stress drinking.

While watching the RNC, I had to drink in mass quantities to dull the pain. There’s no way I could be sober listening to C-level talent extol Donald Trump’s virtues, nor could I be clear-eyed when Rudy Guiliani’s head almost exploded. It was the worst week of my life.

Speaking of Donald Trump, nothing will make me turn into an alcoholic faster than him.

While watching the DNC the following week, I drank for more celebratory reasons. It was a much better show, better entertainers, and there was party unity (sort of) but I still was a nervous wreck and wanted the whole thing over. USA! USA! USA! More wine! More wine! More wine!

All I can say is thank you Sauvingnon Blanc for getting me through both conventions.

There are much better ways to combat stress and cravings though, and I highly suggest you try putting some into practice if you plan on lasting till November 8th.

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Start with exercise. Moving your feet can help resist the lure of sugary foods, says an Austrian study in Men's Health magazine. When stressed-out people hopped on a treadmill for 15 minutes, their desire for sweet, high-calorie snacks fell by 23 percent, while those stayed put saw no change. It appears that stress-busting exercise may reduce your subconscious need for that short-lived sugar boost.

Other kinds of stress management are highly recommended—not just for surviving politics, but for surviving life in general. Strategies include breath work, gentle stretching, psychotherapy, better sleep, acupuncture, and my personal favorite, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).

Even though I’m a fitness professional, I’m also a political junkie, so I too need to practice what I preach: I need to make sure I calm my nerves, get enough sleep, and remember to buy enough wine for the upcoming debates.

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Because there’s nothing like a high-drama, high-stakes debate to make you want to keep drinking.

Treva Brandon Scharf