Good nutrition seems nearly impossible during times of stress. It becomes a tricky cycle that isn’t easy to break free from but perhaps by exploring the ways the stress affects the nutritional quality of our diet will help. So here goes…
There are usually a variety of factors at play when it comes to stress and our diet – time, being a major one. Often when we’re stressed, we’re also short on time. Or when we’re short on time, we’re more likely to become stressed. Whatever the chain of events, cooking or packing a nutritious lunch becomes no small feat in this circumstance. Take out or a hodgepodge of snack foods may replace our normal meals throwing the good nutrition habits we’ve developed out of whack.
Another factor that makes good nutrition during times of stress more difficult is that we are hard-wired to crave foods that are actually higher in both calories and sugar than we normally would when life is a bit calmer. These foods give us easily accessible energy to literally prepare us to fight or flight – however, we may end up moving very little, especially if we’re stressed with any sort of desk work.
Stress nudges us towards less nutritious more calorie-dense foods and then makes us more effective at storing energy away as fat. Eek. This is one is just unfair, but you can see the effect that constant stress can have over time.
A real kicker, though, is that stress also messes with our insulin response and this causes our blood sugar levels to remain elevated – remember, we’re also likely craving the types of foods that have a higher glycemic index necessitating for a more concerted insulin response as well. This phenomenon may also encourage us to store fat more effectively.
My point in exploring this isn’t to say that you should clear out any snacks in your house and delete your seamless app just in case you end up stressed. In fact, sometimes, these things can be a lifesaver. But, I want to emphasize how this aspect of your life that seems unrelated to diet has such a major impact on our food choices and the likelihood of us putting on a bit of extra weight.
The best thing to do is find an outlet for stress that you can rely on. Maybe different forms of stress warrant different outlets so having a few tricks up your sleeve – even a few simple breathing exercises – can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and initiate the rest and digest response helping to bring you back to balance.