Stress and Nutrition

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Aug2009 18

Busy schedules can send stress levels soaring. What does stress have to do with diet? Plenty. When tensions get worse in one aspect of life, it’s not unusual for other areas to seem worse too. This can lead to a breakdown in behavior normally under control, such as the diet. With small positive steps, however, that destructive cycle can be broken.

When life gets busy, it’s tempting to forget about a balanced diet by skipping meals or eating anything while on the run. Yet when your body doesn’t get the balance of nutrients it needs, you may end up trying to do more with less energy. Even ”healthy” low-fat foods like bagels and pretzels don’t constitute a high-energy diet on their own

Eat quickly-prepared foods if you need to, but aim for a combination of grain products (like bread and pasta) and vegetables or fruit, along with a modest amount of protein (dairy, meat or bean) at least three times a day. It can be as easy as choosing a turkey sub with some fresh fruit or raw veggies for lunch, or having vegetable chili and cornbread for dinner. These simple dishes supply adequate nutrition just as well as more time-consuming meals.

Set aside time to eat meals at a pace that allows you to taste and savor them. The 15 or 20 minutes it takes to put aside work and other distractions will more than compensated by a noticeable energy boost. Enjoy quite time or peaceful music while you eat alone, or share some friendly company as you relax at mealtime.

Stress can also increase a yearning for extra snacks and high-fat comfort foods. Snacks can be an important part of good eating, so don’t force yourself to starve if you’re hungry. But snacking when you’re not really hungry doesn’t give you more energy. Sweet snacks can give you a short-term energy boost, but then can also leave you feeling worse later when your blood sugar drops.

When stress hits, you don’t have to forego all of your favorite “comfort foods.” Some treats, like puddings and muffins, can be made with less fat and sugar than in original recipes to make them lighter. You can also try to determine whether you really want the taste of a particular food, or whether non-food forms of comfort will meet your needs, When the taste is just what you want, try taking just a bite of your favorite dish to alleviate that craving. Just that small portion may give you the flavor you crave without added fat and calories.

When people are worn out from the stress of trying to do too much, they often turn to sugar, caffeine, or vitamins to increase energy levels and help them function. There is no evidence, however, that emotional stress increases our vitamin needs. If you focus on simple ways to get balanced nutrition as described above, you’ll get all of the vitamins and other nutrients you need. Sweets and caffeine-containing products may be enjoyed occasionally if you like, but avoid using them throughout the day, or you may experience huge dips and surges in your energy levels. A 15-minute catnap, walk around the block or stretching session will more likely give you renewed energy. Review you priorities and set aside enough time to get adequate sleep for the most dramatic effect on you energy levels.

Experts say that stress is a choice. You can either decide to refrain from worrying about things beyond your control, or you can choose to drive yourself to unattainable perfectionist standards. Set priorities to make the most of your time and let go of the rest. And when pressures in your life increase, simplify eating routines to save time if need be, but don’t give up on the good nutrition that can help you through stressful times.

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