What Do I eat to help with Stress?
What do you exactly need to eat for stress?
Over the past few weeks, I have been blogging more about adrenal stress, external stress from environmental toxins, why stress can impact our sex hormones, and how stress can affect our thyroid but what exactly do you really need to eat to manage your stress levels?
In the first place, do we even know what are our stress triggers?
Stress comes from a myriad of sources, both internal and external. They can affect us both emotionally and physiologically. Many of us are stressed, yet never seem to want to admit it for in our current world, not accomplishing things or doing anything is considered lazy and unproductive. A great way to watch out for stress triggers is to start journalling or monitoring our stress response in that current situation. Cultivating a sense of awareness of our responses is the first step to exploring what really triggered our stress response in the first place. Meditation or sitting still is an awesome way to get started according to the Chopra Center. Take deep breaths and try to focus on where you are sitting and any body sensations. Clients in my PCOS Weight Loss Program start using a stress journal during stage 2 of the program as we work together to dig deep and uncover their stress triggers.
A WORD ON STRESS EATING
Stress eating is a big deal and it has happened to all of us. Heck, there are people out there who are stress eating but do not know they are doing. Eating a high calorie low nutritious processed foods diet can cause weight gain and inflammation on the body but couple that with stress, and the amount of weight gain can increase significantly. Research has shown that in times of stress, both humans and animals tend to favour high sugared/high fat foods even in the absence of need for food.
Insulin, our fat storage hormone is important for storing glucose in the form of glycogen. However, stress combined with high caloric processed diets increases insulin levels up to 10 times, which can affect a certain part of the brain, the amygdala, to become desensitised to that big amount of insulin. Researchers found that a molecule in the amygdala, NPY (Neuropeptide Y) became more expressed during desensitisation of the nerve cells, which stimulated an increase in feeding behaviour and decrease in energy consumption of the body.
Moreover, eating unhealthy fats has been linked to the same pathways that lead to reward in the brain as using drugs of abuse. This could lead to higher amount of cravings and ingestion. Ever felt good eating one cookie? Even thought the serving size on the packet says 2 cookies, you know you are not going to stop at 2! This is one of the reward pathways with which sugar laden goods exploit and which we term as ‘comfort food eating’ or eating to ‘destress’.
During stress, our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area that is associated wth cognition and executive control functions dampens and ‘automatic’ behaviours that help the body to survive becomes activated - strong drive to eat. So when we accumulate small stresses on a daily basis, our body wants to protect us from danger and thus promotes more eating behaviours that do not contribute to our health in the long run.
Foods to eat for Stress
The anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to help your weight loss journey and to deal with stress. Our stress response is linked to inflammatory reactions in our body and thus, it makes sense to eat foods that help with inflammation in order to deal with the stress biological response.
Avoiding Processed Foods
This should not come as a surprise. Processed foods with additional sweeteners, chemicals, food dyes and preservatives are all are no-no in my kitchen. The most obvious ones are cookies, muffins, sodas etc. However, even pasta sauces and various yogurts can have additional food preservatives and sugars added to them. The trick is to read the ingredient list ALWAYS and make sure you know how to pronounce every single item in the list.
FATS AND PROTEIN
Having sources of unsaturated fats helps to regulate blood sugar and have an anti-inflammatory effect on cardiovascular health. Sources include walnuts, almonds, fatty fish, extra virgin olive oil and avocado. Omega 3 fatty acids in these foods help to promote blood flow and circulation and keep blood vessels clear, according to registered dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic.
Coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil are great oils to use in cooking. If you are unsure about the differences between refined, unrefined, extra virgin, cold pressed etc. Dominique, a nutritionist and my friend does a great job at breaking it down.
Do avoid vegetable oils such as cottonseed, rapeseed, canola and corn oil because these have been processed a ton. Other great oils available are hemp, flaxseed and avocado oil.
Herbs and adaptogens are a great way to get botanicals into your diet and life! I love the idea of taking natural plants to give support and boost our immune systems and reduce stress levels.
Andrea Beaman loves her herbal teas and she recommends peppermint, holy basil, chamomile and lemon balm teas to help relax, alongside deep breathing and taking a rest. Take it from Dr Romm, a herbal medicine and doctor, she lists 7 herbs that are great for stress and anxiety: lavender, turmeric, reishi mushroom (I personally use Four Sigmatics reishi mushroom cacao), ashwaghanda, chamomile, chasteberry and lemon balm.
Ahh, a big one. Alcohol. The consumption of alcohol is truly habitual because we are influenced to drink it at social events without thinking twice. For some of us, having a drink in hand makes us feel comfortable and ‘fit in’ more into the scene around us. To take a step back and think about the reason why you would want to have an alcoholic drink is a great way to be conscious in this situation. Studies have shown that binge drinking has been linked to higher rates of obesity up to 70%. The odds of weight gain in younger women aged less than 35 who drinks alcohol heavily has been researched and claimed to be increased as well. When you consider the amount of calories that alcohol pack (7 calories per gram) and on top of that, added sugars to a cocktail, it can be a caloric bomb and no wonder you are not losing the weight that you want.
Furthermore, alcohol is seen as the body as the substance to be rid of as its first priority and it inhibits our metabolism and your capability at reaching your fitness goals. Moderate drinking consumption now is stated as two drinks per day for men and one per day for women, however I strongly suggest to just avoid alcohol whenever possible. That one drink every month is not going to kill you but not having a habit to reach for one, especially in social situations is important to understand.
That is the main bulk of what to eat for stress! The other big part is to be aware that we are stressed, to acknowledge and accept that it is okay to take a rest, get good quality sleep and work on giving ourselves compassion. What are some of your ways to deal with stress? Comment below, I would love to hear about them!