“Food is all those substances that can be changed into life by digestion, and thus repair the losses that the human body suffers through the act of living.”
– The Physiology of Taste by Jean Brillat-Savarin
Did you know that you can radically reduce stress with certain foods?
By eating nutrient packed, low-glycemic diet that is high in protein, it’s possible to diminish the impact of pressures that beat you down.
But, if you make it a habit to give in to stress-inspired cravings for foods high in sugar and fat, you spike your stress hormones, making it incredibly hard to stop eating once you start.
If you have any interest whatsoever in optimizing your body composition and losing fat, you have to do everything in your power to reduce your stress and get control of what you put in you mouth.
What most people trying to lose body fat fail to realize is that going on a diet tends to naturally raise stress rather than reduce it. Consider that the methods typically used to create a calorie deficit are inherently anxiety producing:
• Calorie restriction, or going too long between meals, is very hard for the body. When you have a calorie deficit, your body releases cortisol, which triggers the release of glucose to raise blood sugar and give you energy.
This would not be a game-changing problem if you had a tranquil life that was all happiness and roses. But if you’re under mad pressures every minute of the day, there’s a good chance you have an elevated cortisol curve, which does two things:
1) It leads the body to deposit fat in the abdominal area, and 2) inclines the average person to give in to food cravings, thus negating the calorie deficit.
• Counting calories makes your body feel threatened, which is what is called perceived stress. This kicks cortisol up even higher.
It’s the grand flaw in weight loss plans that count calories because you get the double whammy of cortisol from lack of food and worries about your diet.
• Add in exercise—a major stressor—which, if incorrectly applied, will inhibit fat loss. Correctly applied in conjunction with nutrition, exercise will optimize hormone balance for fat loss and lean muscle gain.
It’s true that a calorie deficit is necessary for fat loss, however, how you achieve that deficit is the magic bullet. Food is one incredibly useful tool you have to improve your ability to deal with problems.
You must choose nutrition that is robust to faults and shore up your defenses against stress. This article will tell you how to do it.
What A Normal Stress Response Looks Like
When under stress, both physical and psychological, the body secretes cortisol. One of cortisol’s primary functions is to release glucose into the blood to give the body the extra energy it needs to overcome the stress.
In past times, before stress became an everyday, all day occurrence, it was usually a result of hunger, starvation, or being attacked by a predator. The elevation in cortisol provided the energy needed to survive food shortages.
Nowadays, under constant stress, cortisol is constantly elevated, making your body think it needs to store fat around the waist so that it will have a source of easily accessible energy for the future.
How Stress Drives Food Intake
When you have cortisol pumping through you, you lose control of your ability to make sensible food choices. Lack of sleep worsens this: One study found that sleep deprivation led people to eat 300 calories more than normal.
High cortisol blunts the desire for non-carb foods that are less palatable, but increases cravings for highly palatable carbs. So you’re never going to want steak and Brussels sprouts, but you’ll be overwhelmed with a desire for a bagel, cake, or other high-carb delight when you’re stressed.
Carb cravings are worsened under times of stress because serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes fullness and satisfaction, is synthesized out of the amino acid tryptophan, which is supplied in carbohydrate foods.
Serotonin gets depleted easily because the body uses the same raw materials to make both stress hormones and serotonin. When serotonin gets low, you’ll have an overwhelming desire to eat carbs to replenish it.
What Happens When the Stress is ALL THE TIME
Poor nutrition and constant stress have a profound ability to make you sick and fat.
Unfortunately, stress and the act of eating refined, high-carb foods have the same effect on hormone balance:
Both elevate blood sugar, which leads to insulin being released. The cells become less sensitive to insulin and the body stores fat. The hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, also get out of whack, making your brain resistant to the STOP EATING message.
And it gets worse: Insulin and cortisol together cause inflammation, which causes you to gain fat in the abdominal cavity—what we call “belly fat.” Belly fat is metabolically active and releases dangerous inflammatory signals, which further activate the stress response through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
The whole thing is a complete health disaster, which you must take action to prevent because it’s surprisingly hard to reverse.
Make It Happen With These Ten Easy Nutrition Rules To Fight Stress & Feel GOOD
- Choose a whole food, low-glycemic, high-protein diet and remove ALL of the processed junk. This will radically improve your ability deal with stress and has the power to make fat loss easy.
- Opting for the most nutrient-dense food available is paramount to counteract the high levels of inflammation caused by elevated insulin and cortisol. Nutrient-rich foods are mainly plants that are high in antioxidant compounds, such as berries, green vegetables, nuts, spices, chocolate, and coffee.
- Eat high–quality protein to counteract stress-induced muscle loss that is triggered by high cortisol. High-quality protein is defined as having at least 10 grams of essential amino acids. Eating this threshold dose at every meal will improve satiety and reduce food intake.
- Specific amino acids that are depleted in the production of stress hormones become more important. Watch out for holes in your diet (vegetarians are often at risk of low taurine for instance, while tyrosine is supplied in meat and it helps you eat less) that can lead to low nutrient intake.
- Be cautious of foods you are allergic too. Common ones are wheat, cow’s milk egg, soy, peanuts, and shellfish. Stress hormones degrade tissue barriers in the body, called epithelium, increasing the development of food allergies.
- Get adequate nutrients that are depleted by stress and can increase carb cravings. These include calcium, magnesium, sodium, chromium, B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, copper, and manganese. See this article for details.
- Plan meals around synergistic foods—food pairings that provide increased scavenging of free radicals that cause damage to protect you against inflammation.
Examples are spinach and tomatoes, fish with turmeric and black pepper, and sweet potatoes with cinnamon and ginger. See the list of Superfoods linked at the end.
8) EAT. All too often stressed people go long periods without eating, sending cortisol ever higher. Eating resets your hormonal cascade and improves the body’s biological circadian rhythm.
After you eat cortisol is reduced, as is the hunger-causing hormone ghrelin, which allows for an increase in leptin, blunting hunger.
9) Consider cycling high-glycemic whole food carbs such as boiled grains or high-starch vegetables like sweet potatoes, green peas, and other tubers in your diet a few times a week. Eat them in the evenings to improve serotonin levels on a low-glycemic diet.
10) Eat nutrient-rich fats, focusing on omega-3s, tropical oils, and monounsaturated fats like olive and avocado. Include animal fats for bioavailable vitamins.
Use the Super List of 40 Superfoods to plan your diet. These are completely affordable foods that you can eat regularly to reduce your stress, fight inflammation and make you feel GOOD.