So much has been written about reducing stress through time management and training your mind and body to relax. These are absolutely essential tools to handle your stress well. Did you know that another major player in your stress equation is what and how you eat? In this brief article, we’ll explore some simple yet powerful tips that can make your eating habits an ally in mastering stress.
First let’s talk about what “your stress equation” is. You experience stress when you perceive that the demands you face exceed the abilities and resources you have to handle those demands. In order to get a better handle on your stress, you can either boost your resources and/or reduce your workload. Nutrition can help you on both sides of that equation.
Let’s begin with how “what” you eat affects the stress you feel. Everything you eat can either serve to boost your energy and resources or increase toxicity and physiological stress. For example, fresh foods that are close to their natural state tend to contain more vital energy and nutrients. These foods give you essential resources that boost your health and energy and leave you feeling empowered. They give you what you need to handle life’s demands.
Foods that are highly processed, genetically modified, and/or contain chemical additives may be drained of vital energy and nutrients and include substances or structures that are toxic to your body. This second group of foods may put your body under more stress, while providing little of what your body needs to be healthy, relaxed, robust, and feeling good. These foods actually increase your body’s workload, so you have less energy to use for all the things you need to get done.
So, a good rule of thumb is to choose fresh organic foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. For many people, a variety of fresh organic vegetables and lean proteins, along with some fruit, raw nuts, and dairy will provide the vital energy and nutrients you need to feel ready to face the demands in your life. For example, you’ll likely get more energy, nutrients, and positive feelings from a salad with fresh fish on it than from an energy bar and protein shake. You’ll likely get more vital energy and usable nutrients from fresh broccoli, strawberries, and blueberries than from a powdered vitamin packet. Fresh foods not only contain more life energy, but they also come in a natural organic structure that is readily absorbed by your body.
Keep in mind that everyone’s body chemistry is different, so what works well for someone else may not work so well for you. A good way to gauge what fuel your body prefers is to keep a “Food and Mood Log” for three days. Write down everything you eat and drink and how much, and then note your energy and mood fifteen minutes and then one hour afterwards. Choose foods and quantities that leave you feeling positive and energized rather than heavy and lethargic.
The second important way to absorb energy and nutrients from your food has to do with “how” you eat. If you eat slowly, thoroughly chewing every bite, and focusing on the taste and texture of your food, you’ll better absorb what your food has to offer. Likewise, if you eat small frequent meals, your body can more readily absorb what you are eating. A nice phrase to keep in mind to keep your energy balanced is “Never hungry, never full.” Eat every few hours to maintain even blood sugar, yet don’t eat to the point where you feel full. When you “stuff yourself,” your body will spend a lot of energy on digestion and won’t be able to absorb the quantity of nutrients you are giving it at one time.
Finally, sit down, take a few deep breaths, and relax when you eat. A relaxed state allows blood to flow to your stomach and intestines to aide in digestion, absorption, and distribution of vital energy and nutrients throughout your body. If you are stressed or eating on the run, your body is functioning under competing agendas and your digestion will suffer.
Every time you sit to eat, keep in mind that you are about to provide your body with essential resources that you can use to handle your stress. If you feed your body well, it will reward you with energy and positive feelings that will help you take care of life’s demands.