How to Avoid Eating Poorly When You’re Stressed
Do particularly stressful times compromise your daily eating decisions?
Whether punching a clock, raising a family, attending school, facing financial challenges or all of the above, eating under stress appears to have become the new normal. Eating on the run as we move about our long list-filled day can make it challenging to consistently eat healthy. Chili’s Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip with a generous bowl of chips can be enticing after a long week. A chewy buttered bagel in the morning or a small bag of M&M’s from the vending machine on a busy day can seem to provide fast fuel, considering brain chemistry changes as we enjoy them, but at what cost?
Harvard Health Publications, put out by the Harvard Medical School, suggests that with persistent stress levels, “the adrenal glands release cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away — or if a person’s stress response gets stuck in the ON position — cortisol may stay elevated.” Uh-oh, also your appetite.
Our food choices can go a long way in preventing the kind of stress on the body that triggers a bad day — lack of concentration, bad mood, stamina, constant cravings and over time illness.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” -Ann Wigmore
Stress is a part of life and if controlled, it can serve to positively propel us to meet the imperatives of the day. Taking a pre-emptive approach to the food we eat at times of stress has tremendous power to calm and nourish the body to channel stress into alertness, better performance and higher productivity. This means being mindful enough to assess and make daily food choices, more often, which will coax the body into powering through busy days with pep in your step and clear thinking.
BEWARE OF THE FOODS STRESSORS THAT FUEL INFLAMMATION AND CONTRIBUTE TO DIS-EASE :
Sugary cereals, fast food, fried foods, soda, refined snacks prepared from white flour and white sugar, processed meats and hard liquor; ‘food-like substances’ filled with chemicals, preservatives, trans fats, sodium, sugar, and other artificial junk.
FOODS THAT FIGHT STRESS AND ENABLE PERSERVERANCE UNDER PRESSURE:
Green tea, avocado, tomatoes, berries, green vegetables, berries, citrus, sweet potatoes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate, fatty wild caught fish, mushrooms, onions, garlic, yogurt and bananas.
To effectively cope with long days multi-tasking, sometimes on insufficient sleep, consider these tips to navigate a time-starved day:
Find your way to a mindful meal. Close the laptop, get off social media and become singular in purpose for at least a part of your meal. Eat with purpose. Eat without thinking.
In his book ‘How To Eat,’ Thich Nhat Hanh explains, “When we eat we usually think. We can enjoy our eating a lot more if we practice not thinking when we eat. We can just be aware of the food. Sometimes we eat and we’re not aware that we’re eating. Our mind isn’t there. When our mind isn’t present, we look but we don’t see, we listen but we don’t hear, we eat but we don’t know the flavor of food. This is a state of forgetfulness, the lack of mindfulness. To be truly present we have to stop our thinking.”
2. UPGRADE JUNK FOOD
These days, the markets are filled with better for you and delicious versions of foods that are traditionally labeled as junk food. From French fries to trail mix, the trick is familiarizing yourself with the multitude of healthy snack options or make them yourself!
Trail Mix has a bit of a ‘health halo’ around it. Packaged versions can be loaded with salt and added sugar. Try this simple recipe for making a trail mix which Oprah enjoyed on a visit to the Canyon Ranch while hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Canyon Ranch’s Pumpkin Crunch
Servings: 10 (¼-cup ea.)
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1½ tsp canola oil
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp allspice
½ tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1¼ cups dried cranberries
- Preheat oven to 300F. Lightly spray a baking sheet with canola oil spray.
- Toss seeds with oil in a small bowl. Spread the coated seeds on the baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, or until almost dry.
- Place seeds in a medium bowl and mix in maple syrup until coated.
- Combine spices in a small bowl and add mixture to the seeds. Stir to combine.
- Return seeds to the baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, or until dry, stirring occasionally. Turn the pan several times to ensure even roasting, checking frequently — seeds burn easily. Set seeds aside until completely cool, about 30 minutes.
- Combine seeds and dried cranberries in a large bowl. Store in a tightly sealed container. Recipe from www.CanyonRanch.com
Pumpkin seeds promote restful sleep. If you are getting less than six hours a night, (42% of Americans are according to a recent Dr. Oz Show study,) be mindful that lack of sleep is linked to weight gain and food cravings. Eat foods that foster getting your Zzzz’s.
1. BE LIKE POP-EYE — EAT YOUR GREENS (lots of them!)
Green vegetables with leaves like spinach, collards, romaine, watercress, leaf lettuce, chard, beet greens and parsley are nutritional superstars. They are highly energizing, detoxifying and pack a punch in invigorating the immune system. These plants provide oxygen to the body. Eat more of them to decrease stress, calm the mind and make muscles and joints more flexible. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) they are among the most nutrient dense foods that exist.
Make leafy greens like spinach, kale and collards the nest on which you place your food. Mix greens directly into your food or add them to soup.
2. BAKE YOUR FRIES
Baking fries in the oven brings out their inherent sweetness.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cut potato into wedges and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Pinch of cayenne is optional. Bake 10 minutes. Turn the fries and bake another 10 minutes. (Sometimes, I like to skip the cayenne and after turning the potato wedges I’ll brush the fries with maple syrup and let it caramelize the potato slices!)
No need to stress over stress. Do what you can to contain it so that it can propel you through tight deadlines, exams, papers and rigorous study sessions.
Too busy to take the time to think about what you’re eating? If you have high levels of energy throughout the day without having to resort to hits of afternoon caffeine and sweets, then may the force be with you. If not, you can balance stress and keep it from becoming chronic. Slow down just enough to pamper your plate with comfort foods that tame hunger, relieve anxiety and create calm when a stress storm surges.