Kristin Finley, M.A., R.D., L.D.
We tend to overlook the role of food and nutrition when dealing with stress. In reaction to stress, many people turn to food as the abuse of choice. Stress eating includes eating for reasons other than hunger such as happiness, sadness, boredom, loneliness, anger, celebration, grief, divorce, or loss of job, just to name a few. In the end, stress eating temporarily improves things, but usually results in a never-ending cycle of excessive calorie intake, weight gain and MORE STRESS.
The big question is, “Why does food make us temporarily feel better? According to Emily Bergeron, M.S., R.D., “It’s not all in your head. There is ever-increasing evidence that what you eat can influence your mood, stress level, energy level, sleep-wake cycle, and mental function.” Experts tell us that an orchestra of chemicals in the brain regulates mood and what we choose to eat.
Simply stated, stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol, which stimulates our appetite. Cortisol also decreases serotonin (mood regulator) levels in the blood, which programs our brain to crave carbohydrate-rich foods. Satisfying that craving boosts the serotonin levels making us feel calmer.
Opt for foods and snacks rich in complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates because they keep blood sugar on an even keel. If too much protein is added, it interferes with the serotonin connection. So, when combating stress and the blues, complex carbs like fruit, popcorn, whole wheat toast with jam or honey, fresh fruit, whole grain crackers like Triscuit or Rye Krisp, vegetable bean soup, chips with low-fat refried beans and salsa, dried fruit, vegetables dipped in dressing are optimal choices.
For something sweeter, go for the whole grain toast with cinnamon sugar or 100% fruit jam, fig cookies or a little natural vanilla bean ice cream. Remember, one-half cup is the portion size for ice cream. Limit simple carbs like cake, doughnuts, sweet bread, candy, and the white stuff–-products made with white flour like white bread, rice, and crackers and flour tortillas.
Stress eating is inevitable but manageable! It’s OK to go a little crazy occasionally with that favorite comfort food, but it can easily get out of hand. Keep these tips in mind when you feel stress and the blues getting in the way of life.
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