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How the economy is making you fat

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Recession weight gain

If the ailing economy has you consoling yourself with extra helpings of jumbo muffins, creamy pasta and other high-carb, high-calorie foods, you aren't alone. A November 2008 ZoneDiet.com survey of over 1000 people (both men and women) reports that nearly one-quarter of those polled say the economic downturn has increased their interest in comfort food. Experts say the economy is also contributing to weight gain and poor eating patterns. If you've been avoiding the scale for the past year for fear of the consequences of your comfort food cravings, keep reading for tips to eat healthfully on a budget and break those stress-induced unhealthy eating patterns.

Woman Eating PastaFood budgets take a hit in the economy

Poor economic conditions not only result in sky-high stress levels, they also force people to cut costs — and, often, the food budget is the first to suffer."One of the first things people look to cut in tough fiscal times is food costs," says Dr Barry Sears, creator of the popular Zone Diet. "Since fresh fruits and vegetables as well as low-fat protein are expensive, these items are usually the first to get replaced by cheaper items such as grains and starches, for example hamburger helper and pasta."

A poor economy breeds carbo addicts

Stress and a diet high in carb-rich comfort foods create a vicious diet cycle that leads to weight gain. According to Dr Sears, stress causes a drop in blood sugar levels, which cause a constant hunger and desire for cheap carbohydrates.John Erickson, nuritionist for ZoneDeliveryUSA.com, a home delivery service for Zone Diet meals, and author of The USA Diet Plans Manual agrees. "I see an increase in carbohydrate consumption, in particular sugary or crunchy snack foods, during a bad economy. A poor economy breeds carbohydrate addicts because people use carbohydrates to combat emotional stress — carbohydrates increase serotonin levels in the brain, which decreases stress." Unfortunately, this high-carb cycle nearly always leads to weight gain.

Tips for breaking unhealthy eating patterns

Eating cheap comfort food may alleviate stress in the short-run, but the weight gain, increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and the roller coaster mood swings will actually compound your stress in the future. Getting off the carbohydrate and comfort food kick won't be easy, but your long-term health is worth your efforts.

1. Choose the right diet technique

Don't decide to go from comfort food junkie to fad diet fanatic. Opt for a balanced eating plan instead. Erickson suggests, "A fad diet is a diet that restricts any of the three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fat. If you go on a diet that restricts the fat, this will leave you hungry, deprived and prone to binge eating." A diet low in protein will also lead to constant hunger.

2. Take a fish oil supplement

The Zone nutritionist says, "My theory on changing poor eating patterns is to change the biochemistry of your body, which in turn proactively facilitates positive mood patterns. Fish oil for example is brain food that increases your sense of well being. Feeling good proactively eliminates the need for a food induced high." Try a fish oil supplement like the Zone Diet's OmegaRx which offers the only patented, ultra-refined omega-3 EPA/DHA concentrate at a dose of up to eight times more omega-3s than provided by a typical dose of even the most expensive omega-3 brands sold in stores.

3. Journal your food intake

People who keep a food journal usually turn away from temptation if they know there will be a written record of their relapse. Further, a study from Kaiser Permanente Center for Health reports that the single best predictor for successful weight loss is keeping a food diary. What you eat definitely plays a key role in achieving a healthy weight, but recording what you eat can help you reach those weight loss goals. And keeping a journal is free!

4. Allow yourself at least two cheat meals per week

During a cheat meal you can eat what you crave the most. "I recommend people set one or two nights per week to eat a cheat meal," says Erickson. "Two cheat meals per week is only a seven percent deviation (as compared to all meals you eat in a week). Knowing you can let loose once and a while keeps you sane." Feeling deprived on any diet will boost your odds of binge eating and once again entering that carb-rich weight gain cycle.

5. Eat regularly to keep your blood sugar stabilized

As the only source of fuel for your brain and central nervous system, adequate blood sugar levels keep your brain content with the present moment. By contrast, skipping meals runs the brain on empty, which sets off uncontrollable junk food cravings, not to mention volatile mood swings. Aim for a balanced meal/snack every three to four hours. Erickson suggests following a diet similar to The Zone 40-30-30 because it does not restrict protein, carbohydrates or fat — it contains a balance of all three, which leaves you feeling satisfied, meaning your blood sugar is stabilized as well. (Learn more about the Zone and other healthy diets)

6. Balance your regular meals

Your insulin levels dictate your approach to food. When stable, you are satisfied, happy and energized. When erratic, as is the case when you eat a poor high-carb diet, you are always starving, moody and fatigued, which compels you to eat more nutrient poor foods. Eating nutritious balanced meals is the key to halting that vicious diet cycle. Dr Sears says, "To control insulin (and your weight), simply divide your plate into three equal sections. On one section, place the amount of low-fat protein that fits in the palm of your hand (3 to 4 ounces). On the other two-thirds, fill [your plate] until it is overflowing with colorful non-starchy vegetables and fruits. Finally add a dash of olive oil." This type of meal is not only healthy, it will stabilize your blood sugar levels, keep your head clear, and help make the current fiscal crisis easier to handle.

7. Only keep healthy food in the kitchen

If you've got junk food in your pantry or refrigerator, it's going to tempt you every time you open the door. Erickson suggests stocking your kitchen with healthy foods — only. "Out of sight, out of mind," he adds. (10 foods every woman should eat)

Next page…ways to eat healthy on a budget

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