The NHS states ‘Stress is usually a reaction to mental or emotional pressure. It’s often related to feeling like you’re losing control over something, but sometimes there’s no obvious cause. When you’re feeling anxious or scared, your body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.’
The workplace is the perfect place to raise awareness and influence behaviours towards healthy eating.
Often people are dismissive of the role food plays in their work lives, seeing it as just a fuel for energy, but it is ultimately responsible for their general wellbeing.
Stress is a normal part of life, we all feel different levels of stress throughout our day, the concern begins when we go through prolonged periods of stress and it begins to affect us detrimentally.
So what is stress?
Psychological eg depression, Physiological eg temperature, surgery, pain, illness, and Social eg social anxiety.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.
Eustress is a good type of stress, either psychological, physical (e.g. exercise), or biochemical/radiological. Examples include a roller-coaster ride or a scary movie. Eustress is not defined by the stressor type, but rather how you perceive that stressor. Eustress is uncomfortable but can lead to personal growth.
So the problem arises when we begin to suffer chronic stress, which is stress overload, where hormones are released promoting symptoms such as depression and anxiety.
Because of the effects on the body of stress it becomes harder to lose weight and we can gain weight round our middle, we lose more nutrients and can become deficient in some, there is a greater risk of chronic diseases. Immunity is impaired (more colds and infections you just can’t shift). Plus a host of other symptoms eg migraines become more persistent if you are susceptible.
There are many physical problems chronic stress can cause, but let’s focus on how it can affect what and how we eat.
Food and chronic stress
Elevated cortisol levels (this is a hormone particularly involved in chronic stress) create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the build-up of fat tissue and to weight gain, particularly fat around the middle of your tummy.
It does this in a number of ways, for example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat. It messes with blood sugar levels (increasing insulin release, fluctuating mood and fatigue).
Blood sugar can spike if we skip meals or too eat too many sugary, refined carbohydrates. When we feel stressed we often self-medicate by consuming too much caffeine and alcohol and sugar that directly stimulate cortisol release and sends blood sugars out of kilter.
Constant arousal can deplete some vitamins and mineral use, particularly vitamin B, C, zinc & magnesium.
Chronic stress slows/stops digestion, so there is less digestive enzymes/blood in the tummy because the blood has gone to the muscles ready for you to move from that danger! Therefore, even if you’re eating healthily you can’t take in and benefit from the foods you’re eating. Your microbiome, the friendly bacteria in your digestive system, do not like this, and it disrupts them, which then has an effect, disrupting the microbiome and can cause bloating, diarrhoea and loose bowels, where food isn’t digested properly.
Stress can cause us to over eat and eat unhealthy foods, often as a comfort, such as milk chocolate, cakes and fatty fast food.
So what should we eat to help counteract the effects of chronic stress?
Eat protein at eat every meal, this distracts absorption of carbohydrates and slows the trickle of sugar into the blood.
Eat more of these REAL unprocessed, wholegrain, wholesome FOODS to replenish vitamins/minerals:
Vitamin C – citrus fruit, peppers, broccoli: bright fruit and veg – vitamin C is lost through heat (cook gently but eat plenty raw)
Magnesium – leafy greens, unprocessed wholegrains and nuts, meat, milk – 80% mg lost through processing!!
Zinc – meat, fish, nuts, seeds, milk, cheese, lentils, fruits and veg
B vitamins – various sources (lots of different B vitamins) mainly found in vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, wholegrains, nuts/seeds
Slow down your eating – chew properly, make time to digest, don’t drink loads of liquids whilst eating (30 minutes before & 1 hour after food), take smaller bites, put down your fork down between mouthfuls, and don’t watch TV or read paper when eating. Make more of eating with others and be sociable rather than watching television.
Help yourself and get support from friends and family and medical professionals. The NHS advises – connect with other people by talking about how you feel, be active and exercise regularly, learn some time management as many of us complain how we never have enough time, breathing exercises (we often forget to breathe or breathe properly when stressed), find ways to relax, this could be different for different people, whether it’s reading a book or a walk in the countryside, or listening to music.
THE KEY TO MANAGING YOUR STRESS IS HOW YOU PERCEIVE IT. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE THE RESOURCES TO COPE WITH STRESS THEN YOU WILL PROBABLY MANAGE BETTER!
I’m sure much of this advice isn’t new to you, but we often forget to put it into practice and need reminding as we become entangled in our busy lives. By EATING WELL, this will support your body during stressful times.
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