Stress is an inseparable companion in the intricate dance of everyday life. From deadlines at work to family responsibilities, our days are often peppered with moments that can push our stress levels to the brink.
When we’re stressed, it’s only human to want comfort—and food is often the first place we turn. Whether it’s reaching for a pint of ice cream after a tough day at work or devouring a bag of chips while binge-watching our favorite show, we’ve all been there. But have you ever wondered why stress and eating seem to go hand in hand?
In today’s post, I’m going to dig deep to uncover the fascinating connection between stress and stress eating. And that’s not all – I’ll also explore how stress, in its relentless nature, can silently deplete us of essential nutrients, leaving us feeling even more drained. So let’s dive in and discover how to nourish our bodies and minds, even in the face of stress.
If you’ve ever been through any seasons of stress, you will know firsthand that it can directly impact your eating habits. For some, stress leads to taking solace in food, resulting in overeating. The foods we turn to when we’re stressed or depressed may provide some temporary relief, but they are usually salty, sugary, oily, and nutrient-deficient.
When we’re under pressure, our body craves foods that will support it. Many of my clients crave salt when their adrenal glands are fatigued. That’s because seasons of stress make our adrenal glands work harder to produce cortisol to manage the emotional burden. More often, I hear my clients say they crave sugar to cope. Sugary foods trigger an insulin spike, which pushes tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier so we can make serotonin and experience peace. And, in a desperate attempt to fuel our brain and help our neurons communicate, our body tells us that it needs more fat. Too often we reach for a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips. We don’t stand a chance if a tub of salted caramel ice cream is within arm’s reach. But it’s not those junk fats our brain needs, it’s healthy omegas.
Others find themselves with a diminished appetite, barely finding the energy to eat enough to sustain themselves.
Either way, the result is a loss of nutrient intake. When you are under duress, your body needs several nutrients to help support it: vitamins B, C, and D, and the minerals magnesium, chromium, selenium, and zinc.
While reaching for comforting foods or not eating at all might be tempting, choosing nutrient-dense options that fuel our bodies is certainly wiser.
Stress Burns Through Your Nutrients
In addition to fueling our bodies inadequately, finding ourselves under stress depletes our bodies of nutrients. Currently, we understand that this happens because our body’s metabolic needs increase, using up more of the nutrients. We also sweat and urinate more often, flushing out more micronutrients in the process. Stress also impacts our digestion, making it harder for us to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. The result is that we need to replenish our bodies with more nutrients than ever before. All of this is why eating a nutrient-dense diet can help curb anxiety and stress.
Where To Find The Nutrients that Help With Stress
When your body needs to make neurotransmitters it relies on vitamin B6. Low levels of B12 and folate are linked to depression. Vitamin B is found in meat (especially liver), fish, eggs, legumes, leafy greens, and seeds.
Remember those weary adrenal glands? They are 70% vitamin C and vitamin C is used to help make your neurotransmitters. When it comes to Vitamin C, we often think of fruit, however, 1 cup of bell peppers has more than double the amount of vitamin C of an orange. Parsley, broccoli, strawberries, and even cauliflower are also excellent sources.
If you’ve ever noticed that you feel more depressed in the winter, chances are it’s because you’re not getting enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps activate serotonin in the brain. We primarily raise vitamin D by spending time outdoors in the sunshine, an activity that often gets compromised when we’re under stress. It is found in foods, like salmon, liver, eggs, and some mushrooms. Checking your vitamin D levels and supplementing if needed can help improve your ability to cope with difficult situations.
Magnesium is found in abundance in leafy green foods because it is the mineral at the center of chlorophyll. It’s also found in nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains. If you’re stressed out, a warm bath with some Epsom salts will help you relax as it gets absorbed through the skin. Sometimes a bath can feel like too much work, so instead, try soaking your feet in warm Epsom water. (Individuals with low blood pressure need to know that supplemental magnesium and Epsom salts may make your condition worse.)
Chromium is one of the best things to help curb overeating when you are under pressure. It helps make serotonin and lowers the amount of cortisol we produce when we’re under stress. It has been studied for its ability to reduce hunger and cravings and may help you if you typically overeat when under stress. Although chromium is available in broccoli, meat, and Brazil nuts, some people choose to supplement with it to reduce their cravings.
As you encounter stressful situations, your levels of the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 will fall, which will slow your metabolism and trigger a negative cycle of anxiety and depression. Selenium is protective of your thyroid, removing damaging free radicals and preventing hypothyroidism and thyroid disease. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, seafood, and organ meats.
Zinc is essential for so many functions required for positive mental health. It is needed for neurotransmitter synthesis, it balances out copper (elevated levels of copper can cause feelings of stress and anxiety), and supplementing with zinc has been shown in studies to improve treatment outcomes when taken with anti-depressant medications. Foods high in zinc include oysters, beef, pumpkin seeds, crab, oats, and sardines.
A Note About Eating When You Don’t Feel Like It
- The physical stressor is often to blame for appetite reduction, triggering hormonal responses that tamp down your hunger. You can’t always make the stressful situation go away, so, alleviate the way you respond to it using the methods listed below.
- Eating on a schedule whether you are hungry or not may help to improve your hunger cues. It will also keep your blood sugar stable and alleviate the nausea and migraines that can accompany low blood sugar.
- Keep your meals light and simple so you don’t overwhelm your system. Prepare chicken and rice, or bone broth soups with nutrient-dense veggies. Meat that has been cooked for longer (like in a crockpot) is easier to digest. Batch cooking like this is fairly simple to do and ensures you have something healthy to pull from in a pinch.
- Nibble on nutrient-dense snacks that provide the micronutrients you need, like pumpkin seeds, veggies and hummus, or fruit.
PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR REDUCING STRESS
- Engage in creative activities like painting, drawing, or pottery to channel your energy into something different.
- Listen to calming music or even upbeat music that raises your endorphins. Sing, dance, or learn to play an instrument.
- Get out of the house and into nature and sunshine. Forest bathing, or the act of spending time outdoors can lower stress hormones, reduce blood pressure, inflammation, and cortisol levels.
- Pamper yourself. Take the bath, go for a massage, do a sound bath, visit a salt room, whatever it takes to unwind.
- Write out your thoughts and feelings, express your emotions, and brainstorm solutions.
- Engage in a breathing practice, or, reach out to Stephanie at Arete and learn how to build your positive intelligence by quieting your saboteurs and engaging your sage.
- Connect with us to find out whether amino acid therapy can help replenish the nutrients you need to cope with your stress.
Stress can significantly affect our nutritional health, altering our appetite and leading to imbalances in our nutrient intake. However, we can empower ourselves to make healthier choices even amidst stress. By opting for nutrient-dense foods, planning meals mindfully, and seeking support when needed, we can nourish our bodies effectively. Additionally, we must recognize the impact of stress on our gut health and overall well-being. By prioritizing a diverse, anti-inflammatory diet, managing stress levels, and fostering a healthy gut, we can promote resilience and enhance our overall health.
Remember, Abundant Hope Nutrition is here to support and guide you every step of the way on your journey to better health. Together, we can conquer stress and nourish our bodies to achieve optimal well-being.