Stress--we have all experienced it at some point or another in our lives. It is your body’s natural response to things that you perceive as a challenge or a threat. Stress can be brought on by a variety of things, a few common causes include: issues at work, lack of time or money, illness, moving to a new home, family problems, relationships, and even traffic.
So what is happening with your body when you are experiencing stress? Have you ever heard of fight or flight? When you are put in a stressful situation, your nervous system releases stress hormones that signal your body to either fight or take off. Your heart starts to race, you may start to sweat, feel tense, tired, or even experience stomachaches and headaches. These physical signs of stress are usually temporary and generally appear when you have been stressed for a shorter period of time. Long term stress, however, can have more serious effects on your body. If not taken care of, long term stress can lead to a weakened immune system, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, weight loss, and weight gain.
When we think about ways to relieve stress, most often we think of yoga poses, breathing exercises, intense workouts or maybe meditation. While all of these are great stress relievers, a healthy diet is often overlooked. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the negative effects that stress has on the body. It can combat the impact of stress by strengthening the immune system, lowering blood pressure, stabilizing blood sugars, and managing your weight. Below are some tips to help fight stress with a healthy diet.
Include Immune Boosting Foods
When your body is under constant stress it can negatively affect your immune system. The constant release of stress hormones over time can begin to weaken your immune system making it harder to fight off serious illnesses or even the common cold. Adding immune boosting foods into your diet will help keep your immune system strong and able to fight off illnesses and infections. Almonds, bell peppers, broccoli, citrus fruits, and spinach are rich in antioxidants and the vitamins needed to give your immune system a healthy boost.
Get Your Healthy Fats
Stress causes your body to produce the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and raises blood pressure. Cortisol, which is the primary stress hormone, increases blood sugars. Healthy fats are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids which can improve blood flow and counteract the negative effects of these stress hormones with their anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3’s can be found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
Choose Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates can increase the production of serotonin, which boosts mood and reduces stress. They are high in fiber and take more time for the body to break down and digest. This also helps to stabilize blood sugars. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are healthy complex carbs that can easily be incorporated into your diet. Kick start your day with a bowl of oatmeal, add some banana into your smoothie, or have some sweet potatoes as a side.
Stress affects everyone differently. For some people stress can cause emotional eating which can lead to overeating. For others, stress sometimes has the opposite effect and can cause undereating. Eating regularly throughout the day will not only keep overeating and undereating in check, but it will also help stabilize your blood sugars. Spikes and falls in blood sugar levels can affect your mood and focus.
Eating regularly, for example with 3 balanced meals and 2 snacks throughout the day, will keep your body fueled with the energy it needs to fight off stress and get the appropriate amount of calories.
Meal prepping is an extremely helpful tool to eat regularly and manage stress. Having your meals prepped and ready to go weekly can eliminate skipping meals and eating too much. You can take a few hours one day a week and prepare all of your meals for the week or you can supplement your meal prep with meals already prepared from fit-flavors. Meals and snacks are fully cooked, balanced, and easy to grab and go.
For help with planning your meals for the week, download the Winning Week Meal Planning Worksheet.
A healthy diet can help counteract the negative impact that stress has on the body. It can strengthen your immune system, lower blood pressure, stabilize blood sugars, and improve your mood overall. If you find yourself completely overwhelmed with stress it is important to seek advice from a medical professional. Or, if you need extra help implementing a healthy diet, consider meeting with a licensed and registered dietitian for one on one nutrition counseling and a customized meal plan.