Chronic stress can have a negative effect on our physical health as well as our mental wellbeing. It can play a role in our susceptibility to illness and disease, but also in day-to-day functional problems such as aches, pains and stiffness.
There are many steps we can take to improve our ability to cope with stress and the role of nutrition is an important one. What and how you eat can help manage your stress.
To cope well with stress we need our food to provide us with balanced, sustained energy. Foods that quickly break down into glucose and are quickly absorbed - such as sugary foods and fast-releasing carbohydrates - may give us a burst of energy but can cause blood sugar to peak and then dip. This can actually increase our body's stress response and stress hormone levels, as well as making us feel irritated and out of control. As well as eating regularly, getting enough food is important when you're dealing with stress.
So how do you know if you're a stress eater? Here are some of the common signs and if these signs apply to you, please try to seek some advise from a healthcare professional.
- After an unpleasant experience, such as an argument, bad day at work etc, do you eat even if you are not hungry?
- Do you crave specific foods when you're upset, such as feeling the desire for chocolate when you're feeling depressed?
- Do you eat because you feel there is nothing else to do?
- Does eating make you feel better when you are down or less focused on problems when you're worried about something?
Going on a weight loss diet - whether it's low-calorie, low-carb or low-fat - during a stressful time can add to your stress levels and in fact lead to yo-yo dieting. Instead, focus on balancing your blood sugar as outlined above, by eating regular meals, getting enough protein, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables and cutting the refined carbohydrates and junks foods.
Some find it helpful to use calorie counting programmes to monitor where those extra calories are coming from, but be honest with yourself and don't leave out those snacks and drinks that all add up.
You should find it easier to manage your weight - or lose weight - by eating in this way. Although regular snacking is not the best thing for everyone, it can be helpful if you're coping with stress, again by helping to keep your blood sugar on an even keel. Base your snacks on whole foods that contain some protein and complex carbohydrates to help avoid spikes in your insulin levels and those pesky cravings!