The Surprising Link Between Stress and Nutrition
The link between stress and nutrition in the fast-paced world we live in is now undeniable. It's not simply a matter of the foods you choose affecting your moods and outlook – the door swings both ways. Your choice of diet can affect the way your mind and body functions making you more susceptible to stress, but at the same time outside stresses in your life can make you crave particular foods, leading to bad eating habits. With these two sides of the coin in mind, it's easy to see how someone in a stressful situation can easily get into a downward spiral of bad eating that leads to even less ability to deal with stress.
The relationship between nutrition and stress in your life can explain why sometimes you may feel like everything that happens to you is outside your control – you're being sabotaged from the inside out by what you eat. The good news is that by simply changing what you eat you can better equip your mind and body to deal with stress – and that has a knock-on effect for dealing with bullying.
The phenomenon of stress is tied to the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is the chemical that causes you to feel those unexplainable cravings for junk food when you're stressed out. Specifically, it makes foods high in sugars, saturated fats and salts appear like the immediate solution to your problems. Often you'll rationalize this eating as “comfort food,” but it's important to be aware of the way cortisol works if you don't want it to sabotage your efforts to get or stay lean. Cortisol is released in small doses as a result of stress, and initially it actually helps you cope. But when it stays at a raised level over an extended period, that's when you'll start to suffer from negative consequences. It's important to learn to relax yourself after a stressful day (through exercises like meditation or yoga) in order to keep cortisol levels low.
Blood Sugar Levels
Many short-term stress and nutrition issues are the direct effect of imbalances in blood sugar. Low blood sugar levels can make you feel dizzy, irritable and tired, making you much more likely to view relatively small problems as huge, stressful events. Unfortunately, this stress can then raise the levels of cortisol in your blood causing you to crave even more foods containing refined carbohydrates, which causes blood-sugar spikes (followed by crashes). And so the downward spiral continues.
“Invisible Drugs” - The Unseen Dangers of Stress and Nutrition
Many people are dependent on drugs without even realizing it. Foods such as caffeine and alcohol have clear addictive qualities, but we rarely tend to think of them as "drugs" because they're legal and so widely used. But that doesn't change the fact that we often end up relying on nicotine, alcohol and caffeine despite that they do us a lot of harm and very little (if any) real good.
Let's pick on the three main culprits here and how they contribute to stress and nutrition problems:
Nicotine – often viewed as a stress reliever by compulsive smokers, nicotine can actually be a severe source of stress. Anyone who has ever seen a chain smoker trapped in a meeting room where he or she can't smoke for an hour can attest to this – the craving for nicotine when it's absent from the bloodstream is a cause of stress.
Caffeine – similar to nicotine, as a stimulant coffee is often considered a positive force for the workday and many people can't imagine going to work without a morning cup or two. But again, like smoking, dependency on caffeine will create stress when you can't get it.
Alcohol – unlike the previous two, alcohol is a depressant. What many people take as the “relaxing” effect of alcohol is actually the depressing of the nervous system. Not only is alcohol itself high in calories, but dependence on alcohol actually leaves you less capable of dealing with stress when you're sober.
Stress and Nutrition Meal Planning:
Avoid Last-Minute Fast Food
Stressful jobs tend to come with a distinct feeling that there aren't enough hours in the day. In reality, most people have more than enough time to do everything they need to do, but their tasks aren't spread out evenly. In other words, you might spend eight hours a day stressed out at the office and then cave and buy a Big Mac on the way home, then spend the next four or five hours watching TV.
The point is, make sure you prepare healthy meals when you have the time to do so – the day before you need them, ideally. Making a whole week of meals and then freezing them have become a popular option for the time-conscious. Making your healthy meals in your free time helps avoid the stress of being hungry at work and resorting to visiting the nearest fast food outlet as a result. Dealing with stress and nutrition (good nutrition) go hand in hand.
Food and Stress – What Helps and What Hurts?
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