Stress is an inherent part of life in the 21st century. Our lifestyles, work, environment, and constant competition all contribute to the ever-present issue of stress. Despite being a state of mind, stress exerts a profound physiological influence. When stress strikes, our body responds by releasing hormones that augment blood flow to swiftly deliver oxygen to our cells. As a result, our heart rate escalates, and our mental alertness surges. This cascade of events is initiated when the hypothalamus in our brain signals the adrenal glands to release adrenaline hormones. If the stress is acute, such as an argument, things usually return to normal. However, when stress becomes episodic, with recurring short bursts, the adrenaline hormone persistently increases heart rate and blood pressure to support the heightened energy requirements. In the case of chronic stress, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which leads to an increase in blood glucose levels to meet the brain’s elevated energy demands. Cortisol also hinders digestion, reproduction, and growth processes, shifting the focus towards the brain.
Chronic stress perpetuates the physiological response through the nervous system, leading to inflammation and cell damage. Additionally, cortisol has an impact on the sleep cycle and alters the body’s utilization of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Impact Of Stress Eating:
Chronic stress raises the metabolic demands of our bodies, often leading to the consumption of nutrient-poor, calorie-dense, and highly processed foods. The cravings for sweet foods tend to increase as well.
Stress can slow down metabolism, resulting in weight gain. A study published in the Journal of Bio Psychiatry found that stressed women burned 100 calories less than others. It was also observed that consuming a high-fat meal within 24 hours of stress further slowed the body’s metabolism, potentially causing women to gain up to 11 pounds over a year.
Stress can lead to skipping meals due to low energy levels and mental turmoil, often replaced with quick, high-fat, high-salt snacks, which can harm health. Cortisol is known to cause food cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods.
Cortisol is associated with increased fat deposition around the belly area, a strong risk factor for insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. It suppresses the satiety hormone leptin and increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
While metabolic factors play a role in stress eating, you can make choices to mitigate the damage:
- Choose mindful eating practices that encourage thorough chewing, slow eating, engagement with the nutritional value of your meals, timely eating, regular exercise, and meditation. A structured lifestyle can help combat stress.
- Opt for nutritious foods over processed ones to prevent making poor choices when hunger strikes.
- Exercise daily as it serves as a great stress reliever, and ensures you get adequate sleep.
Some immediate remedies to combat stress eating include:
- Avoid hastily succumbing to cravings after a stressful event. Pause, have a glass of water, and calm down before succumbing to emotional eating triggers.
- Keep healthy snacks readily available. Fruits, when combined with nuts, can provide prolonged satiety.
- If you’re craving something sweet, keep dark chocolate (at least 90% cocoa) on hand and indulge in a small piece.
- Portion control is key to maintaining healthy eating habits.
Here are some foods known for relieving stress:
Prioritize natural, fresh foods over processed, ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat meals.
- Incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, plant proteins, nuts, and seeds into your diet, as they contain potent anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate the effects of stress.
- Foods rich in Vitamin B, such as eggs, chicken, lean meat, and whole grains, can help regulate cortisol levels.
- Consume omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, olive oil, and fatty fish, to reduce inflammation.
- For improved sleep and stress relief, consider chamomile tea and ashwagandha tea, both of which can soothe nerves and promote better sleep.
In conclusion, it’s essential to learn how to manage stress and not let it control us, as this is the key to leading a healthy and happy life.
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