Why Are You Still Eating Badly? Perhaps It's The Stress Effect

Dr. Purushothaman
January 17, 2014


It's difficult to emphasize how important it is to avoid stress when trying to change a lifetime of bad eating habits. Modern day life can be one challenge after another. It's the attitude we take to these challenges that can make all the difference. That difference can mean getting those six-pack abs you've always wanted, it can be getting a promotion at work, or it could just mean fitting in the gym, work, and a date, all in one day. It's difficult to express how important stress reduction can be for the quality of your life, not just in the short term, but in the long run too.
Scientists are consistently linking stress to illness, and it seems stress can have quite the snowball effect on our health. The theory goes something like this ; Stress is a known contributing factor to insomnia, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and sleep disturbances. These conditions, if allowed to worsen, can in turn lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, hormonal imbalances (especially in women), stroke, heart disease, and sexual dysfunction. Some studies also illustrate that stress can lead to sufferers having a lowered immune system, in turn resulting in contraction of more colds and infections.
Pretty nasty stuff. On the nutrition front, stress can severely effect your good intentions. You've probably experienced this yourself before, even if you didn't realize it at the time. For example, the student that disregards that revision for the test until the week before. Or, The office worker who's got the boss on their back about that overdue report. Sound familiar? Then comes the panic, stress hits, so much to do in so little time. Our body's response ? Increase the production of adrenalin. The consequence of this is that our fat cells all over our body dispense fatty acids into the blood stream. The purpose of this is to provide us with a source of immediate energy. However, it doesn't take that much energy to sit at a desk and read over the same paper again and again (even if you do throw it across the room several times in frustration). Our physical reaction to this is to produce Cortisol. Cortisol transports the unused fatty acids and decides to dump the majority of them around our midsection. Not our best friend in the six pack abs game. It also contributes to visceral fat - the fat deposits surrounding our major organs. Visceral fat is dangerous, studies illustrate its highly active, and may pump poisons into the bloodstream. It also constricts production of endorphins that can lift our mood.
In the immediate future stress translates into us making the 'easy' food choice. Or, at least what we perceive as the easy option. For the example above, this might be the student ordering in a Dominoes Pizza, or the office worker picking up a take-away on the way home after a hard days work. However, all we're doing is creating a 'boom and bust' scenario. When we eat these foods, the simple sugars will rush into our blood stream - instant satisfaction. We all know what comes next. The Crash. Two hours later, you're tired, bloated, and can't concentrate. You probably also feel guilty. You should! But all is not lost, it's just important to realize how far a little preparation and the right attitude can go.
We've all had experiences like those above. Even those of us with defined mid-sections. The secret is to have food ready to heat-up in the fridge. This means cooking healthy dishes for the week ahead. Alternatively, if stress triggers those cravings for that take-away or chocolate, and you have no nutrition packed meals ready to heat-up, just start cooking a healthy dish. This can be difficult, but if you make it through the cravings then you'll feel satisfied and good about yourself for having that nutritious dinner which takes you a step further towards your physique goals.
The lesson is this: adequate stress management will help us make better choices. Whether this be in our nutrition, in our work, or in our wider lives. When stressed, we often revert to doing what we've always done. So that may be bad nutrition, getting too drunk, or handing in that rushed and flawed report to your boss. From the outset, it's easy to see how time management can help us avoid stress. But what other stress cures are there to keep your nutrition (and waistline) on the right track?
- No more for me thanks! Alcohol is one of the best substances you can use to dehydrate your body. The reaction of the body to this is to release lots of cortisol (remember the stress hormone that deposits fat around the waistline), control this by limiting alcohol intake. Now that doesn't mean you can't have the occasional night out, but keep them few and far between, and drink responsibly. Also, ordering water between alcoholic drinks will help.
- Chart your progress. Studies have shown that people can manage stress more effectively if they believe they are making progress. Implement this into all sections of your life. Plan and chart your nutrition for the week (you're far less likely to stray this way). Chart your workouts and record these. If it's work related stress, sit-down and study what aspects of your job are the source of your troubles. Then, chart the progress you make in eliminating the stress from these situations.
- Supplement your peace of mind. Studies have demonstrated the benefits of vitamin C when dealing with stress. You can get this from your nutrition intake, or if you wish you can supplement it too. 1000mg per day is a sufficient amount to potentially aid stress management. It's best to spread this intake into smaller increments across the day.
- Find your happy place. Spend your time with friends whom have a positive outlook. Avoid people who make you angry, depressed, or argue unnecessarily. It's important to realize that some things are out of our control, don't try to control the uncontrollable. Instead, its far more healthy, for your mind and body to focus on that which you can control. This relates closely to charting your progress.
- Avoid that late night internet surfing. Sleep specialists seem to publish new studies on a weekly basis on the optimum amount of sleep per night. Most people agree around eight hours per night is adequate. I've worked with fitness coaches who recommend up to ten hours a night for recovery purposes for their athletes. The take home message is make sure you get enough for you. Listen to your body. Don't rely on caffeine to get you through the day.
- Re-frame the Situation. While it might sound like 'new-age' rubbish to some, the process of re framing problems can be a powerful tool to deal with stressful challenges. Try to view issues from the positive perspective. As JFK said; "When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity".
-And if I really needed to tell you: Avoid smoking. Withdrawing from friends, family, and healthy activities. Using drugs to relax. Physical violence. Gambling. Procrastination.
Implementing the above techniques in dealing with stress can keep you on the right track with your nutrition. If you're still viewing eating nutritious healthy food as a chore, rather than something which can improve your health, looks, athletic performance, and sex appeal, then visit the view our other articles, or download The Truth About Six Pack Abs e book. It provides easy- to- master nutrition principles, motivation secrets for lifelong nutrition success, the truth about popular supplements, and beautiful recipes you'll prefer to any take-away. We call it smart nutrition for smart people.

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