How many of us have reached for an unhealthy snack when stress gets us down? Whether it stems from work, interpersonal relationships or just accumulates from daily living, stress can affect our eating habits tremendously. Research conducted over the past few years has proven the unfortunate correlation between stress levels and your waist line.
So why do we reach for the junk in our hours of need? And what can we do instead to avoid buying more pants with elastic waist bands?
Although many people do have issues with emotional eating, our bodies are indeed wired to crave food when we are faced with stressful situations. From an evolutionary standpoint, humans have a built-in fight or flight response, which has helped us survive so far. In the past, when our ancestors would face a very stressful situation, such as a charging mammoth or voracious predator, the body and mind would react by flushing the system with the hormone cortisol. This prepared our ancestors to either defend themselves or run away from said threat.
While this was a necessary reaction for our predecessors, it does not have as much use in our lives today. Instead of raging predators, now we face unrelenting deadlines and mind-numbing traffic jams.
One very important difference though is that we face stress on a much more regular basis.
In other words, whereas your ancestor might have crossed paths with a raging animal perhaps once a week, we do face anxiety from driving every day.
This consistent input of anxiety has two major pitfalls. The first is that more of what you eat is stored around your belly area as fat, so as to give your liver quick access to sugar in case you do need to run for your life. The problem here is that you would never have to actually execute that run, so the fat just accumulates there. The second problem is that foods high in fat, sugar and carbohydrates are craved because they instantly release serotonin, the hormone responsible for making you feel good.
So next time you are faced with an impending deadline or somecrazy driver cuts you up, skip the doughnut and reach for a bag of carrots or celery sticks instead.
We spoke to nutritionist Raghda Keblawi at Health Quest, a nutrition centre in the city, to get the lowdown on how to deal with stress without eating ourselves to death.
Why do so many people get hungry when they are stressed?
Low levels of glycogen and blood sugar levels stimulate our appetite through the secretion of a gut hormone called ghrelin. Medical research shows that stressed people have high levels of ghrelin secretion.
What kind of food should you avoid when you are stressed?
Certain groups like caffeine and salty foods are known to aggravate stress in our bodies. Salty foods increase the blood pressure. Ingredients that should be avoided in times of stress are hydrogenated fats (chips, cookies), artificial flavours and colourings (soft drinks, gums), preservatives and glutamates (found in many canned products).
What kind of food can you reach for when you are stressed?
Certain food items can actually help reduce stress in our bodies. While apricots and greens such as spinach replenish the body with magnesium, which is known to relax the muscles and help with headaches, nuts and dark vegetables like almonds, pistachios, broccoli, and okra are rich in vitamins B and E that help lower blood pressure. Citrus fruits, which are a storehouse for Vitamin C, also help in controlling blood pressure. Other food items like sweet potatoes provide insulin to the body, provide energy, and help deal with fatigue in a stressful situation.
What are some of the healthy desserts that you have at Health Quest?
If you absolutely must have something sweet, we offer a wide range of cakes, rolls and pastries.
Health Quest (02 690 7999).