I recently read an article that was ostensibly about stress and weight loss. The article explained that many of the empty calories taken in during the course of the day are from “stress eating.”
As many of you know, eating is a comfort activity that eases, at least temporarily, some of the little spikes of stress that we feel throughout the day.
The premise of the article was that, by training yourself to find comfort from a different source, your default wouldn’t be to reach for the chips.
This resonated with me. I have a pretty stressful job. And I have noticed that I take in a lot of empty calories throughout the workweek, but I don’t eat nearly as much on the weekends or vacations.
As a crutch, I pack lots of fruits and veggies to take to work. That way, when I feel the pang, at least my calories are lower and the food is nutritious.
|That’s me on the right, 8 years ago
But what if I didn’t have to respond to the pangs with food at all? Intrigued, I kept reading.
According to the article, a very strong stress reducer is human touch. Studies have shown that a hug can greatly lower one’s stress levels. Particularly effective is being held by another person. Petting a fuzzy buddy has a similar calming effect.
The idea is, replace the hunger response with some human contact, and train yourself to seek this response instead.
Unfortunately, I can’t really go around hugging people at work. And they already nixed my idea of an office cat. I’m not about to go ask my boss to be my cuddle buddy.
|Did you know that cuddle parties are a thing?
Fortunately, I do have an expert hugger at home. My daughter absolutely loves giving me hugs. She makes sure to send me off to work every day with a hug. And, at random times during the day, she will shout “free hugs!” And come wrap her arms around me.
Some people, like my daughter, seem to have extra capacity for love and contact. It’s easier for them to breach the invisible barriers that keep people separated like opposing magnets.
If only I could bottle that and take it to work with me. But I can’t.
Wish it was easier, or more culturally acceptable, because it seems we all crave the contact on some level.
Last weekend, I got extra hugs, because I took my daughter camping. Just the two of us. It’s been a tradition for a few years now.
We went to a state park, Hueston Woods. It’s a nice park, near Oxford Ohio, close to Indiana. Bonus for me – they have a nice system of mountain bike trails.
We arrived Friday evening and set up our tent. Then, we sat down for some camp sushi – another tradition of ours.
While we were eating, a caravan of pickup trucks rolled in to set up on the sites directly across the street. This was clearly several generations of a family, from youngish grandparents all the way to very young grandkids.
I felt a twinge of disappointment, because I was hoping we’d have this quiet corner of the park to ourselves. But, it was a fine weekend in July, and I knew the park would get crowded.
As they set up camp, a gaggle of kids rolled out of the trucks and started playing, loud and rough. My daughter, who is pretty reserved, looked at me a little disappointedly and asked “why are they so loud?”
“Well,” I said, “they just got done with a long drive and they’re on vacation.” “They’re just having fun.” But deep down, I wondered too, just what we were in for.
And, when it got dark out, my fears seemed justified, because they’d brought out an electric flood light. When they turned it on, it was aimed right across our campsite.
Now, I’ve had this happen before, and it’s a real bummer. Who wants a spotlight in their eyes at night when camping? So, I set my jaw and got up to ask them to move it.
But before I even stood all the way up, the family matriarch (let’s call her “Mama”) called out to the guy with the light that he was aiming it at our tent. He immediately apologized and moved it.
By 10:00, the family was keeping the kids quiet and just enjoying each other’s company by the campfire.
I was already warming to them.
Soon, our fire started to go low. Mama noticed and gathered up a bunch of their firewood in her arms. She carried it over and handed it to me with a smile, explaining “we’ve got extra.”
The next day, after breakfast, my daughter and I went for a bike ride.
When we returned to eat lunch, the campsites were quiet. The patriarch (let’s call him “Papa”) moseyed over and, with a wry smile, explained “it’ll be quiet for a while. We sent the noisy ones to the beach.”
Mama then joined us and started talking to me like we’d known each other for years. We talked about the racoons that had come into their tent “in broad daylight” and about all the stuff to do at the park. Then we went our separate ways.
My daughter and I went to the beach, then drove to Oxford for dinner and ice cream.
When we returned, it was almost dark. We set up a campfire and started playing cards.
The other family was also sitting around a campfire swapping stories. One guy, in particular, seemed to be holding court. Let’s call him “Uncle Billy.” It was clear that Uncle Billy was a gregarious sort. And the kids loved him, climbing all over him and teasing him, while he laughed loudly and scolded them.
As the night grew on, and our card games continued at the picnic table, I could hear Uncle Billy’s stories.
One lecture really struck me. It seemed that one of the kids was talking about how she wanted to grow up rich and live in a mansion.
“You have to be careful around rich people,” Uncle Billy warned.
“Think about it. If you’re scared, and you’re running down the road, and you need help, who would you go to, the rich folks on one side of the road, or the dirty ones on the other?”
“The rich ones?” Guessed the girl.
“No way.” Said Uncle Billy. “Rich people won’t want nothing to do with you. They will only see trouble. But the poor people will help you out. They know where you’ve been, because they’ve been there themselves.”
I reflected on Uncle Billy’s advice as I sat with my daughter. Maybe it was a little too sweeping, but there was definitely a kernel of truth in it.
Made me question my own bias. Why had I been nervous when the family rolled into camp? What if Uncle Billy had run up and needed my help?
Pretty sure I would have given it. But I’m not rich, either.
The next morning, as we were packing up to go, we said goodbye to Mama and Papa and their clan. Couldn’t have asked for better neighbors.
I know a lot of people who have abandoned social media lately. They are sick of the bad news, the diviseness and the polarization that seems to come from all corners. Yeah. I get that. It bothers me too.
To them, I offer this: come get a hug. I don’t care who you’re voting for, whether you sleep with a gun under your pillow, or what you think about abortion. I mean, I care, but I still love you.
Be brave, and give someone a hug.