Food

NUTRITION: Dealing with stress, and the appetite that comes with it

Gardening Harvesting Fruit

This undated photo shows harvested grapes and apples in New Paltz, N.Y. Grapes, picked dead ripe, and apples, picked mature to finish ripening indoors, are part of autumn’s luscious bounty. (Lee Reich via AP)

By LeeAnn Weintraub, Special to Digital First Media

With the relaxation of summer days now a hazy memory and school and work schedules in full swing, you might notice your stress levels are up.

People struggling with chronic stress from difficult life circumstances or trauma are especially negatively affected by stress. Unfortunately, stress takes a major toll on not just the mind, but the body and could even be sabotaging your best efforts at a healthy lifestyle.

Understanding how stress works and what to do to manage it better can help you stay balanced through the ups and downs of life.

There’s no doubt that stress can have an adverse impact on appetite and eating habits. Short-term stress causes the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, reducing appetite as a part of the body’s fight-or-flight response.

However, if stress or the perception of stress continues the body releases another hormone called cortisol, which increases appetite. Cortisol is at least partly responsible for the stress-induced cravings that result in overeating high-sugar and high-fat foods.

Once cortisol levels fall, appetite returns to normal. Though, if stress levels remain high, cortisol and its physiological repercussions can persist.

Stress disrupts the body’s functioning on a cellular level, but the relationship between stress and human health is complicated. Researchers are looking at how chronic stress impacts the body’s ability to regulate inflammation. Chronic stress has been linked to inflammatory conditions such as depression, heart disease and infectious disease.

A recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry found that undergoing stressful events seems to negate healthy eating practices. The researchers looked at how intake of saturated fats and unsaturated fats affected inflammatory markers in the context of stress. Although those who consume healthier unsaturated fats have less inflammation, after withstanding stressful events those who ate the healthier fats fared no better than those consuming saturated fats.

Although this may seem like a license to indulge when life gets tough, and more stress-related research is needed, this is evidence that those living with chronic stress are at higher risk of harmful inflammation and are in serious need of an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet.

Because the harmful effects of stress seep into many aspects of everyday living such as sleep, relationships, and eating habits among others, wreaking havoc on the body’s ability to cope with inflammation, it can be beneficial to have a stress reduction plan in place that includes healthy eating.

Here are some stress-busting suggestions to stay focused and balanced for better health:

• Include avariety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables daily that help fight inflammation.

• Consider how the use of caffeine, nicotine or sugar may be working against your goals for a healthier lifestyle.

• Try incorporating daily meditation. Try out one of the many smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm that help with teaching, scheduling and advancing meditation practices.

• Unplug. Give yourself time before bed to disconnect from technology such as cell phones, computers and television to help set the stage for restful sleep.

• Consider logging your eating habits to help uncover patterns between how you feel and what you eat.

• Use exercise as an outlet to help manage stress. Activities like yoga, tai chi and swimming that involve intentional breathing can play a beneficial role in stress reduction.

• Laugh it off. Socializing with family and friends can help with coping and may boost self-esteem.

• Stay open-minded about trying alternative stress reduction methods like massage, acupressure, art therapy, aromatherapy and hypnosis.

• If your stress is unmanageable and you could benefit from support, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

STRESS BUSTING TIPS

• Eat right: Include avariety of nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables daily that help fight inflammation.

• Curb your vices: Consider how the use of caffeine, nicotine or sugar may be working against your goals for a healthier lifestyle.

• Try incorporating daily meditation: Try out one of the many smartphone apps like Headspace and Calm that help with teaching, scheduling and advancing meditation practices.

• Unplug: Give yourself time before bed to disconnect from technology such as cell phones, computers and television to help set the stage for restful sleep.

• Start a food journal: Consider logging your eating habits to help uncover patterns between how you feel and what you eat.

• Use exerciseto help manage stress: Activities like yoga, tai chi and swimming that involve intentional breathing can play a beneficial role in stress reduction.

• Laugh it off: Socializing with family and friends can help with coping and may boost self-esteem.

• Stay open-minded:Try alternative stress reduction methods like massage, acupressure, art therapy, aromatherapy and hypnosis.

• Ask for help: If your stress is unmanageable and you could benefit from support, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

LeeAnn Weintraub, a registered dietitian, provides nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and businesses. She can be reached at RD@halfacup.com.

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