Stress – one of the unavoidable ´syndromes´ of the information age. It affects every facet of our lives, from our performance at work, to our health and even our relationships with friends, family and our children.
A proven key to combat stress is balanced nutrition. The old saying, ¨You are what you eat¨ might never have been more important than in the combat against stress. The question then is, does stress affect your eating habits?
To find out, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you feel like you have to skip breakfast or other meals because you do not have time?
Do you depend on caffeine to keep you awake in the morning, and at other times of the day or night, when you are feeling low in energy?
Are you starving when you get home from a busy day of classes and other activities?
When you eat under stress, do you only choose foods that are high in salt, simple sugars, and/or fat?
Have you gained or lost weight recently due to stress eating?
Most people answers ¨yes” to at least one of these questions. Stress affects your diet and your body´s nutritional balance, and in turn, this stops you from reaching your full potential.
What is stress?
Each individual may have their own definition of stress. In general, stress is an emotionally-upsetting condition, which may be accompanied by the following symptoms:
Feeling tired or run down
Weight loss or gain
Getting angry or frustrated easily
Becoming more critical of yourself and others
In addition to these daily problems, stressed individuals are also more at risk to suffer from the following diseases and conditions: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, weakened immune system, digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and sleep disturbances.
Effects of stress on your eating habits
Often an individual’s reaction to stress is evidenced in their eating habits. While it is more common to overeat when “stressed out,” there are those who under eat. Both habits are detrimental to the person’s overall well-being. Eating too little depletes one’s energy, and decreases the ability to focus. Eating too much tends to lead to weight gain, and often causes sluggishness (due to imbalanced blood sugar levels), which may impair one’s ability to think clearly.
Food cravings experienced under stress are not just a figment of the imagination—there is a biological basis to them. When a person experiences something stressful, their brain goes into “fight or flight” mode, and the body undergoes many changes as it prepares for physical activity, including the release of adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones help mobilize carbohydrates and fat for quick energy. When the stress is over, the cortisol acts to increase appetite so the carbohydrates and fat that should have burned while fleeing or fighting can be replaced.
Tea, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and cigarettes have similar effects as they contain substances which stimulates the release of adrenalin. This instant energy release has a downside – the body slows down digestion, repair and maintenance to channel energy into dealing with stress. As a consequence prolonged stress is associated with speeding up the ageing process, as well as increasing the risk of hormone imbalances, as well as the risk for diseases of the digestive track. By living off stimulants such as coffee and cigarettes, high sugar diets or stress itself, you increase your risk of:
upsetting your thyroid balance, slowing your metabolism causing you to gain weight
upsetting your calcium balance – potentially resulting in arthritis
suffering from problems associated with sex hormones imbalances or excessive cortisol.
These are long term side effects of prolonged stress, because any body system that is overstimulated will eventually under-function.
Studies have shown that the body depletes its stores of nutrients when under stress. The nutrients that are most affected include protein and the B vitamins but vitamins C and A levels could also be affected. A deficiency of magnesium, which helps muscles relax, has been linked to "Type A" or high-stress personalities.
There are several things you can do to make healthy food choices to help manage your stress. Here’s a list of ways to insure better nutrition that can work for even the busiest people.
1. Eat Breakfast: You may rationalize that you’re not hungry yet, that you don’t have time, that lunch will come soon enough, that you need to diet anyway, or that the milk in the latte you pick up on the way is all the good nutrition you need. But skipping breakfast makes it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels and effective functioning during your busy morning; you need it. An easy answer HERABLIFE Meal replacement Shake or Breakfast Bars! Fantastic Low GI breakfast!
2. Opt For Green Tea: If you’re a coffee junkie, you may not realize the effects caffeine has on your system. However, you can reduce your stress levels and improve your mental performance throughout the day if you gradually wean yourself off of large amounts of caffeine. A relatively easy and healthy way to do that is to replace coffee with decaffeinated green tea, which has a soothing taste and the added benefit of loads of antioxidants. Use HERBALIFE Thermojetics and enjoy the energy!
-+3. Increase your potassium intake: If you are under prolonged stress or are at risk for hypertension, consume foods high in potassium, such as orange juice, squash, potatoes, apricots, limes, bananas, avocados, tomatoes, and peaches. You also should increase your intake of calcium, which is found in milk, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, and chick- peas.
4. Try Sparkling Juice: If you’re a cola drinker, you’re probably experiencing the same health consequences from caffeine that coffee drinkers experience. A more healthful alternative is sparkling fruit juice, or sparkling water.
5. Carry a Snack: Having some protein-rich, healthful snacks in your car, office, or purse can help you avoid blood sugar level dips and accompanying mood swings and fatigue. HERBALIFE Protein bars are delicious and a healthy back-up for your busy days!
6. Healthy Munches: If you find that you absently munch when you’re stressed, or have a pattern of snacking at certain times in the day or week, you can replace chips, chocolates and other less-healthy munchies with carrot sticks, celery sticks, sunflower seeds, nuts, apples or other more healthy choices. (Even popcorn is a better choice if you leave off the butter and salt!)
Try some or all of them, and you should find yourself feeling healthy, more productive, and—best of all—less stressed!
Article submitted by Liesbet Nel, (B.Sc.Dietetics) Corporate Health and Wellness Consultant