How are Stress & Nutrition Linked?
Are you feeling stressed and finding that this affects what you are eating?
Stress has practically become an inevitable part of our daily lives. Everyone experiences stress to some extent.
So, what is stress?
Stress is a normal response the body goes through to adjust to a situation when a demand has been placed on it. Stress is normal for everyone to experience at some point in time. Small amounts of stress can sometimes help us complete certain tasks and feel more motivated. However, stress can become a problem and have an impact on our health when it is too intense or lasts for a long time – chronic stress.
What happens when we are stressed
When we encounter stress, our fight or flight response is triggered which makes our body release a complex mix of stress hormones – adrenaline, cortisol and noradrenaline. This prepares the body for action and helps us to respond quickly to dangerous situations. At these times blood flow is redirected to muscles and slows down certain less important functions like digestion. This response was essential for our ancestors to survive in a world where this depended on speed and quick movement.
Once the stressful period is over, our bodies clear out those stress hormones and we return to our normal, calm selves.
Today, this response can still help us survive dangerous situations, like avoiding a speeding car. Additionally, in small doses stress can help improve our memory, performance, motivation and performance, and activate our immune system – helping to protect against infections and with wound healing.
However, stress may become an issue when the stressors we experience continue for prolonged periods of time. Without relief – chronic stress, which may impact our health and well-being.
How does this affect the way you eat?
The link between nutrition and stress is a two-way street: stress can affect what and how we eat, and what and how we eat can also affect stress.
Stress affects our eating patterns in one of two ways: undereating or overeating. This depends on the type or severity of the stress we are experiencing.
In short-term stressful periods, our appetite tends to be reduced, and factors like lack of time can influence us to eat less.
However, in more long-term stressful periods, we tend to eat more as our body requires more nutritionally dense foods – foods rich in vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, in these situations, we turn to comfort foods, particularly processed and convenience foods which are often high in sugar and fat. This may cause nutrient depletion and weight gain in the long term.
Our eating patterns can also affect our stress levels. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, nuts and fish, and low in processed foods has been associated with lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression. While diets high in processed and convenience foods have been associated with the opposite.
So what can I do?
Let’s be real. Even if you run away to a magical fairy garden full of rainbows and unicorns and eternal (calorie-free) cupcakes, stress will still find its way into your life!
However, you can try to consider these three things:
1. How can you reduce your daily stressors?
This one is all about simplicity.
Putting too much on your plate may increase your stress load and limit the amount of time you can spend on self-care.
Taking control of your personal life may help reduce stress and protect your mental health.
One way to do this may be to say “no” more often. This is especially true if you find yourself taking on more than you can handle, because juggling many responsibilities may leave you feeling overwhelmed.
2. How can you change the way the stress you can’t reduce affect you?
This is about looking at techniques proven to positively modulate stress.
These include yoga, journaling, meditation, breath work, exercise, getting out in nature, socialising with friends…just to name a few. It’s about finding one that works for you
3. Can I add nutritional foods to my diet?
Nutrient-dense diets focused on whole foods, antioxidants, omega 3, vitamin D and blood-sugar-regulating complex carbohydrates and good quality protein. Loading up on extra b Vitamins, zinc and magnesium can also help you modulate stress.
Fermented foods and prebiotic fibres can get that gut microbiome up to scratch and potentially boost your stress resilience.
The link between stress and nutrition is a dynamic one, with each influencing the other in a complex interplay. Understanding this connection empowers us to make more informed choices, both in how we manage stress and the foods we choose to nourish our bodies.
Remember, if you are struggling with stress please seek advice from a trained health practitioner.