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The Link Between Nutrition and Stress: How Your Food Choices Impact Your Well-Being

Healthy Food Choices

I have been following a plant-based diet for over twenty years now. Although it wasn’t as easy to start as it is now, I am glad I did. But do you know what I did first when I hit burnout? I looked into nutrition!

I thought I followed a healthy diet because I wasn’t eating meat. But truth be told to be able to eat healthy you need to resolve the stress issue. Why?

Because stress impacts everything. It influences your mood, metabolism, the food choices you make, and most importantly how your body utilizes nutrients. As you soon find out, when your stress hormones are high, your body will compete for minerals.

It will eventually leave you depleted, low on energy, and, yes, nutrient deficient. So, whenever you are on your holistic plant-based journey, keep reading to find out the link between nutrition and stress and what to do to start making healthy food choices.

But before we start, get your copy of my e-book The Wholehearted Diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.

Healthy food choices

How Stress Impacts Your Food Choices

I used to start my day with black coffee with sugar, grab a quick muesli bar or a banana mid-afternoon, and often skip lunch. My main meal of the day was late dinner, usually way too big for the time of the day. And although I thought I cooked healthy, in retrospect, I didn’t.

Or at least, I wasn’t consistent with it.

First of all, I didn’t know Plant-based Nutrition 101. Additionally, my food choices were led by high levels of stress. I know we all use the phrase I’m stressed a thousand times a day, but have you ever paused and thought about what that actually meant for the food choices you make?

When you are stressed, your body goes into the stress response, also called the fight, flight, or freeze response. Many biological processes happen at that moment. But the most important is that your body shifts how it uses energy.

You see, in that critical moment, your body is getting ready to fight the mythical opponent or flee the scene. Either way, you need energy to do that! But because you need to do it fast, your body uses carbohydrates to give you a quick boost.

Used carbohydrates need to be replaced pronto so you will have sugar cravings.

The more stressed you are, the more your body uses carbohydrates, and the bigger cravings you have. So, if you have pasta, bread, pizza, or baked goods cravings, your stress levels may be creating those food choices.

Stress and Time

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking, and I may even have moments when I want to cook a fancy dish, but most of the time, I want a quick yet nourishing meal.

Have you noticed that when you are stressed you are often irritated, lacking patience, and want things to happen instantly? It is not that you don’t have the time and energy to think about lavishing dinners.

You are too stressed out to do that.

When you feel stressed you don’t want to spend hours and hours roasting that cauliflower or making a vegan lasagne. I know I didn’t. Every time I thought about cooking, I felt like my stress levels went up.

No, you want something quick and easy. And unfortunately, in our culture, this most often means processed foods. And when you add your biochemistry and cravings for carbohydrates, you get a very powerful cocktail.

What’s more, during times of stress, it is so much easier to lean toward comforting foods, which may not be the best nutritious choice. Humans are emotional creatures, so it is only natural that you would eat to improve your mood.

Emotional eating has many underlying causes, but it is almost a guarantee that you will reach for food when you feel stressed. Because your brain works on associations, it would go for familiar foods.

In a way, emotional eating is a habit, and you may be keeping that tub of ice cream for those dark, overwhelming moments without even realizing that you are doing that.

The Link Between Nutrition and Stress

As mentioned earlier, during stress response, your body undergoes a lot of different chemical reactions. Two main stress hormones are being produced: adrenaline and cortisol.

Both stress hormones impact how other hormones are being produced, most likely causing hormonal imbalance in your body. They also influence how your body absorbs certain nutrients.

The three main nutrients that play a crucial role in managing your stress levels and in stress reduction are magnesium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Think about it this way. Your body will always want to bring you to homeostasis, to balance. So, when you have one hormone high, another one will be low. When your body uses more of a specific mineral, and you don’t keep up with delivering higher quantities, you will be short on it.

Eventually, you will not only have a hormonal imbalance and mineral deficiency but potentially develop a life-altering illness. And it is extremely hard to fight any disease when your body doesn’t have the energy to do so.

And it all comes down to stress and inadequate nutrition.

Before you ask, let me say that, yes, there is a relationship between stress and weight. As mentioned earlier, your body prepares you for action and it needs energy. Energy can be delivered either through carbohydrates or fats.

Every time your body doesn’t use fat for energy production, it is stored as fat tissue. Add the sugar cravings and highly processed foods or foods high in unhealthy oils (like fries for example), and you may find yourself struggling with your weight management.

How to Make Healthy Food Choices During Stressful Times

Of course, in an ideal world, we would be able to manage stress levels very well. But managing stress is not a one-and-done deal. Your life is full of challenges, ups and downs, and there will always be situations in which you feel overwhelmed.

Additionally, because stress is a survival mechanism, it cannot be eliminated. It is part of who you are. It means you can manage it better, but you will never get rid of it completely.

That is why you need a stress management plan to help you make healthier food choices. And here are 3 strategies:

#1 Plan in Advance

If you ever heard any business advice you know that the only way to succeed is by planning. I am not talking here about setting goals, or even anticipating that you would be stressed. Trust me, you will be stressed at some point during the day.

But if you know you have an important meeting, an approaching deadline, or some other challenges, you can make food choices beforehand.

I plan all my weekly meals on a Thursday night. I look at my calendar so that I know what is coming up, and I try to predict where there can be a bump in the road. This way I have food ready and won’t let stress alter my decisions.

#2 Easy Swaps

Emotional eating plays a big part when we deal with stress. The best way is to potentially work with a holistic practitioner who can help you uncover the reasons for your emotional eating. And help to create a plan to address them more sustainably.

Choosing a different tool rather than food to meet your emotional needs may be the next step to take. Deep down one of the human fundamental needs is not being met and you use food to fulfill it. What other activities can you engage in to boost your mood?

If you suspect that emotional eating will require deeper work (and it will require time) think about the end product. If you always reach out for a cookie or an ice cream, is there a healthy alternative? Reaching out for fruit (in moderation) may be an option.

#3 Regular meals

Hopefully, you planned your meal in advance and stocked up on healthy snacks to use when your stress levels go up. It is important to develop and keep a healthy eating routine. This would mean not to skip your meals.

A balanced diet full of whole foods, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates will help your body to absorb nutrients and balance your hormones. It will also help to regulate your blood sugar preventing you from crashing.

Snacking is a big no-no and I tend to agree. However, snacking on nuts or seeds (or any other product high in healthy fats) will help satisfy those pesky sugar cravings when they come up.

It is beneficial to have healthy snacks handy because when you are in a state of high stress or even feel hungry, your food choices may not be the most nutritious.

Conquer Stress and Make Healthy Food Choices

There is a direct link between nutrition, stress, and the food choices you make. They are interconnected and influence each other even if you never thought about it.

That is why prioritizing nutrition by following a balanced diet as well as managing stress effectively is the best way to make conscious food choices that support your health and well-being.

Ready to get started with a plant-based diet? Get your copy of my e-book The Wholehearted Diet. Discover the power of plant-based eating, stress less, and have more energy.

Healthy food choices

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