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Eating to Combat Stress

By Coach Julie

When we encounter something stressful, our nervous system and adrenal glands send signals to the rest of the body to help us think more clearly and be ready for action (should it be required) – this is called the Fight or Flight response. The problem is, that in modern life, we can become stressed for many different reasons other than impending danger…and yet our bodies’ reaction is the same. If we are chronically stressed, our bodies are always in this heightened state which can lead to a multitude of problems. One of these problems is that long-term stress has been linked to the tendency of the body to store fat around the stomach. Poor stress-management, for many people, is perhaps the most significant barrier to weight loss. After you have been stressed, your body goes into a recovery mode that looks like this: increased appetite and food cravings, and decreased metabolism. This is why we often times turn to traditional “comfort” foods such as macaroni and cheese, pizza, and ice cream. Ironically, these foods are usually the worst possible choices because they can make us feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress. But there’s good news! Being aware of the way your body behaves post-stress can help you to manage your stress levels through nutrition and help your body recover from stressful periods more rapidly…and avoid that weight gain.

Your diet and nutrition choices can make your stress levels go up or down. Certain foods provide comfort and actually increase levels of hormones in the body that naturally fight stress. Other types of foods can reduce stress by lowering the levels of hormones that trigger it.

-There is a soothing effect of sipping a warm drink, regardless of the flavor, but certain herbs (like lavender and chamomile) have been shown to have a relaxing effect on their own.

-Dark chocolate in the diet can reduce stress in two ways – chemically and emotionally. First, chocolate feels like such an indulgence that it can be a real treat to simply savor a piece of it, and that feeling alone can reduce stress. Second, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and can reduce stress by lowering levels of stress hormones in the body.

-Omega 3 Fatty Acids are found in avocados and fatty fish (tuna, halibut, salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, and lake trout). Omega 3’s have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, ease depression, boost concentration, and improve mood.

-Nuts are full of vitamins, including B vitamins and healthy fatty acids as well which can help to reduce stress. Pistachios, in particular, were found to have a role in reducing stress levels.

-Fruits and vegetables: Chronic stress can weaken our ability to fight disease. By upping our intake of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, we can boost our immune system. Acorn squash and carrots, for example, are great sources of the antioxidant beta-carotene. And citrus fruits provide plenty of vitamin C – another great stress-busting antioxidant.

-Green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale) contain folate which produces dopamine, a pleasure-inducing brain chemical, helping you keep calm. A 2012 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders of 2,800 middle-aged and elderly people and found those who consumed the most folate had a lower risk of depression symptoms than those who took in the least. And, a 2013 study from the University of Otago found that college students tended to feel calmer, happier, and more energetic on days they ate more fruits and veggies.

-Flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are all great sources of magnesium. Loading up on the mineral may help regulate emotions. Magnesium has been shown to help alleviate depression, fatigue, and irritability.

Finally, avoid eating to relieve stress. Some people turn to food to comfort themselves when they are under stress. This can lead to overeating and then guilt. If this is a problem for you, try to replace eating with other actions that relieve stress, such as taking a walk, playing with a pet, or taking a bath.

By watching our diet, increasing our intake of stress-busting nutrients and limiting our intake of stress-inducing substances (caffeine, sugar, nicotine) we can feel better about ourselves and our well-being, as well as give our bodies the chance to cope with and recover from stressful situations.

 

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