Health | February 14, 2017
When you are battling stress, eating right may be one of the last things on your mind. You may feel pulled in so many directions that eating at all is a miracle. And when you do get to eat, stress makes you choose something quick, easy, and probably not so healthy. In turn, your bad food choices may lead to health and other problems that increase your stress. But, you can actually get food to work for you and not against you in the battle against stress. If you choose the right foods to eat, eat at the right times, and adopt a less stressful lifestyle you can fight stress with food.
Include lean protein in your diet.
You can fight stress with food if you include healthy protein in your meals and snacks. The amino acid tryptophan is found in high-protein foods and helps your body make serotonin which helps you feel calmer and happier.
- Foods like turkey, fish, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and eggs are high in protein and tryptophan.
- Start your day off right by having a high-protein breakfast of egg whites or oatmeal.
- When you are craving a snack, try something like a handful of almonds and a thin slice of turkey breast.
- Swap out high-fat meats and cooking styles. Instead of making fried chicken, try breaded, oven-baked chicken breast.
- Try to limit proteins that are high in saturated fat like red meats and whole milk.
Manage your carbs.
Many comfort foods, like sweets, mashed potatoes, breads, and pasta are carbohydrates. You want to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates because they are mostly just sugar; however, to fight your stress with food, you do want to eat complex carbs because they help your body make serotonin.
- Include whole grains like oatmeal, pasta, and whole-grain breads in your meals. Swap brown rice for white rice and choose whole wheat or corn tortillas instead of flour.
- Eat sweet potatoes, corn, and beans when you feel like you need a comfort food.
- Try to avoid eating lots of foods high in sugar and corn syrup. They can give you a brief energy boost, but it doesn’t last and these foods can hurt you more than they help.
- For example, limit your cookies, cakes, and other sweets.
Finish your fish.
Most seafood contain omega-3 fatty acids which has been found to reduce anxiety and stress hormones like cortisol.
If you are trying to fight stress with food, make sure you are including plenty of fish in your diet.
- Not all seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids but fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and sardines do.
- Try to have fatty fish at least twice a week.
- Foods like chia seeds and walnuts are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and are great for snacking.
Eat lots of leafy greens.
These vegetables are packed with folate which helps your brain make the chemical dopamine.
Dopamine, in turn, helps you feel calmer and happier. They also contain magnesium which can help improve your mood.
Make sure you are getting enough leafy greens to fight your stress with food.
- Try adding vegetables like kale, collard greens, turnip greens, rapini, romaine lettuce, and spinach to your regular diet.
- If you aren’t a big salad eater, try adding leafy greens to a smoothie. They don’t change the taste of the smoothie and give you nutrients you might miss otherwise.
Enjoy some berries for a snack.
It’s hard to fight stress when you aren’t physically well or lack energy. Berries can help you fight stress because they contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that boost your immune system, so regularly grab a handful.
- Add fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries to your whole-grain cereal or oatmeal for breakfast.
- Put some berries on the top of your salad to give it an extra kick of flavor and nutrition.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
While alcohol and caffeine can both temporarily make you feel less stressed (although in different ways), both of these can do much more harm than good. In order to fight stress with food, limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you are consuming.
- Alcohol use can lead to you making bad decisions in the moment that can actually add to your overall stress.
- Caffeinated beverages can give you a boost, but can also leave you feeling too ‘wired’ to get the rest you need.
- Instead, drink plenty of water to combat your feelings of stress.
Eat meals at regular times.
When you’re hungry it can add to your stress and you are more likely to eat things that will actually increase your stress instead of reduce it. But, if you make a habit of eating meals at regular times, you can fight stress with food by making sure your body has the nutrition it needs when it needs it.
- Although you don’t have to eat immediately when you wake up, you should have breakfast every morning.
- Try to have lunch each day. A midday meal can give your body the energy it needs to fight the stress of the afternoon.
Plan your meals.
Planning and preparing your meals in advance will give you the opportunity to select foods that will help your body fight stress.
Because you already have planned what you will eat, you will be less likely to eat foods that increase your stress.
- Each week think about what meals you will have so that you are meeting all of your nutritional needs for the week.
- For example, you might think about needing to eat fish several times, more vegetables, and less simple carbohydrates.
- Check the kitchen to determine if there are any ingredients you need to buy for your meals.
- Plan to include foods that will help you combat stress. For example, plan to have fish at least twice a week and to include leafy greens in at least one meal a day.
Give in to your snack attack.
There is nothing wrong with having a snack or two throughout the day. In fact, having a healthy snack can give you the boost of nutrients you need to fight stress.
- Occasionally it’s okay to snack on chips or candy bar, but this shouldn’t be an everyday snack.
- Snack on things such as fresh fruit and vegetables. For example, a sliced tomato sprinkled with pepper or a cup of mandarin oranges.
- Try to bring snacks from home so that you are less tempted to buy something unhealthy just because it’s convenient.
- Watch your portions so that your snack doesn’t become meal.
Avoid emotional eating.
There are times when you are feeling stressed and even though you aren’t hungry, you are craving your favorite snack. It’s okay to give in occasionally, but using food as a regular coping mechanism can lead to obesity, eating disorders, and more stress.
Avoid using emotional eating as a way to fight stress with food.
- Emotional eating can lead to binging on food because you aren’t paying attention to how much you are eating.
- Before you eat, ask yourself if you are actually hungry or if you are eating just to make yourself feel better.
- You might think something like, “Is now the right time to eat? Am I hungry or just trying to make myself feel better?”
Be more mindful.
Mindfulness can help reduce your stress in general because it requires you to focus all your attention on what you are doing.
This can help you reduce stress by allowing you to think about what and when you are eating. When you are focused on your food, you have less time to think about the things stressing you and more time to enjoy your food.
- Practice mindfulness in all of your activities. Instead of multi-tasking, focus on what you are doing in the moment.
- Being mindful when you are eating will help you recognize when you are full and enjoy your food more.
- For example, when you are preparing a meal or eating, slow down and take the time to pay attention to the colors, textures, smells, and flavors of your food.
- For instance, you could say to yourself, “This couscous feels really grainy and smells fragrant with all the spices.”
One of the best things you can do to fight stress, in addition to eating well, is to be physically active. Physical activity not only boosts your mood but it also aids in digestion, which means all the nutrients that you are eating will have an effect on your stress levels quicker. So make sure that you are getting regular physical activity.
- Try going for a walk after you eat lunch or dinner to help your food digest.
- Go hiking or biking once or twice a week. Take a healthy, energy boosting snack like almonds and dried cranberries with you.
- Participate in a team sport like volleyball, rugby, baseball, or cricket. Being around other people can encourage you to stay active.
Keep a journal.
Journaling is great for reducing stress because it gives you the opportunity to honestly express how you are feeling about the things going on in your life. You can also your journal to keep track of which foods seem to help you fight stress better.
- Write about the things that happen in your life, as well as how you feel about these things.
- Try to keep a log of what you eat when you are stressed so that you have an idea of the foods that are most (or least)effective in helping you fight stress.
- You can also write about how eating makes you feel or your experience with eating mindfully.
- For example, you might write, “It was really enjoyable to taste the blend of flavors and textures in the fruit salad.”