Stress and Your Waistline
Stress has a negative effect on your body’s resistance to disease, and also chips away at your immune system. But, many people would agree one of the most annoying signs of stress is an expanding waistline. When under stress, the body releases fight or flight hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, which cause the body to store body fat in that particular area. Cortisol increases abdominal fat storage, which increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
When you’re stressed it absolutely impacts your food choices, so here are my tips for helping your body manage the negative impact stress has on the body.
Nutrition Tips to Manage Stress
Sleep is crucial! Your adrenal glands need sleep to recover from stress. A lack of sleep (7-9 hours is optimal) and a lack of quality of sleep increases the hormones that trigger your appetite. When ghrelin increases, you'll feel hungrier and will be more drawn to eat. Inadequate sleep will increase ghrelin in your stomach by about 22%. Here's more about the connection between your hunger hormones, your appetite and your weight.
#2: Remove “Comfort Foods” From Your House
People tend to crave carbohydrates, aka: "comfort foods," when they’re stressed and there’s a reason for this. Carbs (starch and sugar) actually prompt the brain to produce more serotonin, which gives you a release—a sense of calmness. Someone who’s stressed may consume a lot of food, or eat the wrong food, or both. Common comfort foods include pizza, cheese, chocolates, ice cream, candy, and chips, so get them out of the house so they won't tempt you when you're stressed out.
#3: Increase Fruits and Vegetables
Make fruits and vegetables your new comfort foods. They contain antioxidants that work to neutralize harmful molecules produced when your body is under stress.
#4: Include Avocados
Avocados may keep the stress away. They’re loaded with healthy monounsaturated fats and potassium, both which help stabilize stress levels and support a healthy blood pressure.
#5: Increase Omega-3 Rich Foods
Omega-3 fats (EPA & DHA) help prevent those stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, from peaking which keeps stress levels at bay. Good sources of omega-3 rich foods include fish and walnuts.
Another perk about omega-3 fats is they have zero effect on your blood sugar, help fill you up, and provide a long-lasting sense of satisfaction after eating. Every morning upon waking, I immediately take one tablespoon of liquid fat, straight off the spoon, to maintain my blood sugar level and get my daily boost of essential fatty acids.
#6: Eliminate Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Foods (aka: trans fatty acids)
These fats lead to free radical damage to cells, and a high-fat diet suppresses the immune system. Eating the wrong kinds of fats also have a negative effect on your circulatory system and increase your risk of developing heart disease.
#7: Eat Your Vitamin C
Chronic stress depletes vitamin C. Vitamin C manages stress levels by returning the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, to normal after a stressful situation. This includes helping to return your blood pressure back to a normal level after a stressful situation.
#8: Decrease Caffeine
Caffeine exacerbates stress. Swap your morning cup of Joe for a cup of decaf green tea. It’s high in antioxidants, which help fight off free radicals that cause stress to our body and contribute to disease. If you’re somebody who suffers from stress related insomnia, decreasing caffeine may allow for better sleep and that can reduce your stress levels as well.
#9: Avoid Sugar
Avoid the blood sugar ups and downs because they stress and damage your body on the inside, age the body faster, disrupt hormones and lead to fat storage. Moving from a high blood sugar to a low blood sugar causes energy levels to crash after that initial sugar rush. Here's how to stay off the blood sugar roller coaster.
#10: Include High-Fiber Foods Throughout The Day
Carbohydrates increase serotonin production in our bodies, so we get that feel-good mood enhancer, but the type of carbohydrate is extremely important. Stick to high-fiber whole grains because the fiber slows down digestion. By slowing down digestion, your blood sugar levels remain stable which keeps our energy levels from plummeting. There's also a connection between fiber and weight management.
#11: Be Prepared
Carry a snack at all times. Eating something every 3-4 hours manages our blood sugar levels. We know when our blood sugar levels drop we can get irritable and fatigued, which makes you more stressed and aggravated and ultimately raises your stress levels.
#12: Eat Organic
Eating organic decreases the synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers in food, and therefore the amount you ingest. Choosing organic foods also reduces your intake of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). These things are toxic stressors inside your body, so minimizing them is important for overall health.
Bottom Line: Stress can be mental, emotional, physical and environmental. Giving your body the nutrients it needs to fight the damage caused by stress will go a long way in also managing mood, appetite, weight, the amount of time it takes to recover from stressors and overall health.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. Takeda E, et al. Stress control and human nutrition. J Med Invest. 2004 Aug;51(3-4): 139-45.
2. Sapolsky R: Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-related Diseases, and Coping. Freeman and Co, New York, 1998, p. 76-79.