So, as we learned in the last blog on how to decrease the stress in our bodies, too much physical and/or intense activity can increase the physical stress that we place on ourselves and become menacing…and actually (*gasp*) help to increase our body fat! With the action step, you learned one example on how to keep that stress under control and how to incorporate healthy amounts of exercise into your routine in order to keep your body changing for the positive. In this chapter of the series, I will be discussing the most common known form of stress and one that is not so thought about: Emotional and Nutritional Stress.
Part Two: Nutritionally and Emotionally
Now, why do I put them together in the same blog? Unbeknownst to many people, emotional and nutritional stress go hand in hand and play off of each other. It can be as confusing as the age-old question…what came first, the chicken or the egg? If we do not eat foods that are nourishing and supportive of our hormones, physical activity levels, and digestive system, then our body will be taxed and caused to work much harder than it needs to. If we are stressed emotionally (i.e., bad day at work, unhealthy relationships, major negative life changes), our bodies will crave foods that will decrease our stress levels and comfort us (i.e., fats, sugars, salt, and unhealthy carbohydrates).
When you perceive any form of stress, your body responds via your hormone glands and they release two primary stress hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones have a widespread impact on every system and organ in your body. Specifically they lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and a decrease in DHEA levels. This combined effect leads to muscle loss, fat gain, depression, anxiety and immune suppression.
What are the key benefits of reducing nutritional and emotional stress?
- Reduced biological age
- A more vibrant life
- Longer life expectancy
- Less body fat and more lean muscle
- More energy, strength and endurance
- Improved productivity and mental clarity
- Higher quality, deeper sleep
- Improved resistance to illness
- Quicker recovery from exercise
- Fewer cravings and less hunger
- Elevated mood and desire to tackle life
Let’s Talk Nutrition
Nutritional stress = the average standard American diet (or SAD)…Period! It is high in refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats…such as burgers, fries, fast foods, candy, sugary drinks, and baked goods… and low in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and healthy fats…such as quinoa, brown rice, pseudograins, avocados, unsalted nuts and seeds, and coconut oil. Frequent consumption of unhealthy/ processed/ convenient foods leads to increasing health problems that include food allergies, diseases, inflammation in the body, and cancers. Over time the SAD diet taxes the endocrine system, alters our hormone levels, and develops deficiencies in our micronutrients (i.e., vitamins, minerals and other important factors). Ok, so what is really so detrimental about this? Well, if you add coffee, tea, cigarettes, drugs, and/or alcohol to the consumption of heavy nutritional depleters, your endocrine system becomes chronically stressed and taxed. A depleted endocrine system leads to high levels of cortisol (remember what we discussed about cortisol in our last blog?), high blood pressure, high blood fats, unstable blood sugars, and obesity. This then, in turn, taxes the immune system and decreases the body’s ability to ward of infection, disease, and chronic illnesses. To me, the SAD diet really does sound just that…Sad! So why the heck are we still doing this to our precious bodies?
Proper foods and nourishment lead to effective digestion and decreased stress and overload on the body’s burning capabilities. Our bodies are like a well-kept car. If we perform regular maintenance and supply our cars with the proper fluids, the car will run more effectively, use gas more efficiently, and run increasingly smoother. If we do not take care of our car, it may just leave us deserted on the side of the road. Nutritional stress can be reversed, however. And, how do you do that? You got it…through a combination of a more alkaline forming, plant based diet, healthier lifestyle habits and increase physical activity. More about that later!
Let’s Talk Emotions
We know that a little stress can actually be good for you and help fuel the desire and motivation to accomplish some great personal ambitions. But when you’re constantly feeling under pressure and the emotional stress becomes chronic (i.e, feelings of being overwhelmed, anxious, and just plain frazzled), the effects can actually add up to something dangerous. Chronic stress not only increases our weight gain and obesity levels, but it also
- Increases tension headaches…who hasn’t had these every so often?
- Increases physical aches and pains
- Causes upset stomach, digestion, diarrhea, nausea, and constipation
- Low sex drive and other reproductive issues
- Flares up acne and other skin problems
- Teeth damage and jaw pain
- Trouble sleeping/ insomnia
- Raises the risk of a stroke
- Raises risk of a heart attack
- Spurs depressive/self-defeating moments
- Raises risk of chronic diseases
- Shrinks the brain physically
- Decreases the immune system
So, let’s kick the next 2 weeks into high gear and continue to combat stress by focusing on your nutrition and emotions. These action steps will go in conjunction with Part One action steps, so don’t back off on combating your physical stress!
Eating foods that are more alkaline forming and plant based are critical in decreasing inflammation and stress on the body, while promoting proper digestion and a clean, efficient, and well-operating system. Some examples of this are vegetables, fruits, pseudograins (amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, wild rice, millet), avocados, flaxseed, almonds, almond milk, stevia (for a sweetener), apple cider vinegar, green tea, hemp seeds (neutral), and fresh herbs. To have a healthy solid nutritional plan, even though they are more acid forming, adding small amounts of the following may help to keep your body in tip top shape: cold water fish (wild tuna and wild salmon), raw unprocessed dairy, legumes, and free range organic meats.
Incorporate the following concepts into your daily nutritional plan.
- Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day.
- Incorporate at least 1-2 alkaline forming foods into your daily diet, slowing increasing them until they form the majority of your food intake. Make sure that you are getting plenty of green and green leafy vegetables regularly.
- Add a good Omega-3 fatty acid to your plan . Try 1 teaspoon of fish oil or flaxseed oil daily.
- Consider a probiotic for promoting the growth of healthy gut bacteria and better overall digestion.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol. They may provide temporary relief, but in the long run, they will increase your stress.
- Eat 4-6 small meals daily. Stress interferes with digestion so smaller meals are digested better than the traditional 3 large ones.
- Stay away from any foods you are allergic to. Consuming foods that irritate your body, regardless of how good they may taste, is a surefire way to increase the stress and inflammation in your body!
- Try sipping on stress-relieving and digestion promoting herbal teas like chamomile, peppermint, and ginger.
Incorporate at least one of the following stress-relieving tactics into your day. Even just 5-10 minutes of a calming activity first thing in the morning, before you go to bed, or during a stressful event, will raise your feel good vibes dramatically.
- Practice at least 5-10 minutes of meditation that focuses on your breathing or creating calmness inside your mind.
- Incorporate deep breathing techniques by breathing in through your nose and allowing your belly to expand, hold that breath for a few seconds, and then allowing the breath to flow out from your mouth while flattening the stomach.
- Laugh more often..and try to make it a deep belly laugh as much as possible!
- Don’t be afraid to take that work break and walk away from your work station…your employer gives it to you for a reason!
- Try Tai Chi, yoga, stretching, or any other stress-relieving free flowing exercise.
- Moderate intensity exercise…gotta love stress-reducing endorphins.
- Get on a sleep schedule and make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep a night…this really is extremely important to stress reduction.
- Socialize with the people you enjoy…everyone needs a support system.