Eating for Stress
Digestion is a very energy intensive process. Stress reduces the quality of digestive enzymes because it slows down digestion as it shifts energy and nutrient resources away from growth and maintenance to “fight or flight”. So when you are going through a stressful period it is important to make your food count nutritionally and easy to digest. Cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone, stimulates the part of your brain that causes cravings because stress demands energy (ATP) and the quickest way to get energy is to raise your blood sugar (glucose – the main fuel for ATP).
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However, that doesn’t mean that eating something sweet is the solution. In fact, eating something sweet is counterproductive because it quickly jacks up your blood sugar, creates a spike in insulin and quickly brings it down, meaning you crash. Unless you want to be an energy yo-yo, the best approach to eating for energy when your life is stressful is to eat small, balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day.
Each meal and snack should include protein, complex carbohydrates and good quality fats because each of these breaks down into glucose at different rates. This gradual, steady supply of fuel for ATP production will sustain your energy all day. Follow the tips for digesting your food in the previous section to help get the most out of your food nutritionally.
If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue:
- Emphasize good quality protein in your diet (preferably animal – fish, chicken, eggs, meat, dairy, but it can be vegetarian – soy, lentils, other legumes, nuts or seeds).
- In each meal and snack, include protein, complex carbohydrates (whole grains; starchy vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and legumes; fresh fruit), and good quality fats (fresh olive, coconut, sesame, flax or other nut or seed oils, or ghee).
- Eat small meals at regular intervals – breakfast, lunch, dinner with a snack mid-morning, mid-afternoon and in the early evening. Eat breakfast before 10 am and eat again at noon.
- Do not have fruit or fruit juice in the morning and avoid high potassium fruit like bananas and figs.
- Start your day with lightly salted (1/8 tsp. or to taste) water.
- Salt food to taste.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, sodas and fruit juice.
If you are stressed and in hyperdrive:
- Emphasize fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- In each meal and snack, include protein (more vegetarian than animal – soy, lentils, other legumes, nuts and seeds), complex carbohydrates (whole grains; starchy vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and legumes; fresh fruit), and good quality fats (fresh olive, coconut, sesame, flax or other nut or seed oils).
- Eat small meals at regular intervals – breakfast, lunch, dinner with a snack midmorning and midafternoon but none or only fruit in the evening.
- Limit salt intake.
- Try unsweetened green tea instead of coffee and avoid sodas.