Stories of research, nutrition, and nature

Stress and obesity

On the way to workI like walking to work every day, especially because I can see and hear something like this on the way. The sound of flowing water is music to my ears. Even though I didn’t actually grow up next to a river or a lake, I’ve always found that being close to water soothes my nerves, and swimming in a lake is one of the most relaxing things for me.

I’m not the only one who feels that way: exercising outdoors actually is better to mental well-being than indoor activity. More importantly, contact with nature enhances overall well-being and relieves stress.

Why is this relevant in terms of healthy eating? Well, for one, stress and obesity have a strong link. Stressed people not only tend to have unhealthier lifestyles (such as too much snacking and junk food, too little exercise), but their metabolic system also seems to respond to stress by starting to conserve more energy. And sleep deprivation, which usually goes hand in hand with stress, messes things up even more: it distorts hormonal balance and makes you want to eat more. The poor body is in the state of alert and tries to prepare for potential dangers ahead.

Simply put, not sleeping enough makes you stupid, slow and fat.

The good news is that getting enough sleep and learning to manage stress in a healthy way returns the body to its normal state, making it easier to lose those extra pounds. Everyone can learn to relax, focus on the present moment, and take time to do things that they truly want to do. One example of this is mindful eating: eating slowly and savoring the tastes, appreciating food and also its production and preparation processes.

Technology can support people in the initial steps of learning. For example, mobile intervention programs with 2-4 weeks duration can teach simple relaxation and mindfulness techniques, and provide tracking tools that increase users’ awareness of their behavior and its consequences. Kinda like a low-cost personal coach in your pocket.

So, that’s what I would like to do. Develop such interventions that motivate and help people get started, establish some new habits, and find their own way towards their good life. I don’t think that these kinds of applications should even aim for long-term usage,  except for periodical check-ups to see if users have fallen off the track and need some encouragement to pull themselves together again.

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