Nobody wants to go through the emotional roller coaster ride of stress or depression and sadly, such conditions will often lead to eating unhealthy or snack foods for comfort. You might be eating a healthy diet when suddenly something happens, the stress levels rise and you cannot help yourself but binge on doughnuts, that large tub of ice cream or other sugary treats. Along with the unsuitable food, the regular and sensible meals can be forgotten or discarded in a flash.
There are certain hormones in our bodies that can react strongly to stress
Cortisol is one such hormone. When you feel tense, stress eating seems to be triggered almost like an automatic response. Cortisol is normally present in the body at high levels in the morning, but lowest at night, and is secreted into the bloodstream in higher levels during the body's response to stress, leading to several stress-related changes in our bodies. Some changes are suitable for stressful situations but because of our modern high stress culture, the body's stress response is activated so often that it may not have the chance to return to normal.
If you are in a state of chronic stress, prolonged and high levels of cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to many health problems including blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia and increased abdominal fat. All the more reason to be careful of your diet at such times. A 2010 study from the University of Michigan showed that when levels of the stress hormone cortisol were boosted in healthy, non-stressed adults, they ate more snack foods.
If you are prone to regular stressful or depressive periods in your life, you need to break the cycle and enjoy a healthier diet
- If you prepare your brain and your body ahead of time so that it is ready to cope with times of stress or depression, you will be better placed to handle it when it happens. Eat small regular and healthy meals throughout the day (at least every 3 to 4 hours).
- Enjoy complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, raisin bran, brown rice, whole-grain pasta, lots of fresh and organic vegetables, beans, fresh fruits and healthy fats from grass fed butter, olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, nut butters, coconut oil, avocado oil and olive oil to help encourage the feel good serotonin in your system and to counteract stress.
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of a stress attack as soon as it starts so that you can do your best to stop the urge to eat the wrong foods in its tracks. You might well be hungry but just make sure that you give your body the right food that it really needs.
- Become more aware of your eating patterns so that you use your senses to choose foods that are both enjoyable, fill the gap but are also nourishing to your body.
- If the stress-eating urge usually hits you suddenly and without notice, be prepared by always keeping some healthy snacks close at hand so that you are not tempted to rush out and buy the wrong kind of comfort food from the closest vending machine or convenience store when the need arises. Suggestions for such emergency supplies include small packets of nuts and trail mix, small bars of dark chocolate and apples.
- At home, you can keep tempting but healthy treats in the refrigerator such as boxes of blueberries, raspberries and other berries or ready cut up pieces of carrot and celery. And if the less healthy options are not readily available in the home, then you are less likely to snack on them in a stressful situation. So if you should not be eating them then you should not be buying them in the first place!
- Try to avoid turning to food as a panacea for your stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, needs the body to learn to relax to keep its levels healthy and under control. Change to using other stress management tools such as exercise (go for a walk, a run, a cycle, a swim or a session at the gym); relaxing techniques (deep breathing, yoga, listening to soothing music, meditation); putting your thoughts and concerns down on paper in a journal; or call on a friend to have a good chat and hopefully even a laugh.
To get into the best eating habits to keep that stress at bay, you cannot do better than follow this chart