Eating when stressed
By - Bob Otieno
| Dec 16th 2012 | 2 min read
By Bob Otieno
Stress is perceived by the conscious or sub-conscious mind. It is not an absolute but rather relative response phenomena to our environment and is best defined by how we ‘choose’ to react. Consequently, stress affects each of us in different ways and to different degrees.
As you all know, there is no such thing as a stress-free life. In fact, no stress equals death, but some stress forms are better for you than others.
The connection between nutrition and stress can be intriguing because usually, wise food choices are the last thing on one’s mind when stressed.
Nutritional deficiencies are rarely the cause of the stress. We do know that our nutritional needs change when we are experiencing stress and we can help the body ‘cope’ by providing enough nutrients, which are in greater demand or are more difficult to acquire when we perceive stress.
The two most significant issues underlying nutritional problems during stress are — food selection and digestion.
Food selection tends not to be at its best when we are stressed. We tend to choose ‘comfort’ foods, those easily obtained, easily digested and sweet. They give us a temporary but quick lift but are rarely the most nutritious.
Poor digestion during stress is the result of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction generated by our response to stress. Digestion is given little priority by the hierarchy of body functions during these circumstances. This results in fewer digestive enzymes and poor blood supply to the gut. The blood finds the brain and muscles to be more important during this period.
With poor digestion, even the best food choices will not result in adequate nutrients reaching important body parts like the brain.
If you don’t feed the brain, all of your stress management tools will be ignored and you will tend to react at the stimulus/response level (a level below rational thought). So you respond with anger, fear, nervousness, sleepless, depression, anxiety and lethargy.
Another major consequence of poor digestion/poor absorption of nutrients, particularly proteins and essential fats, is one of self-cannibalism. Your body, in search of protein and fat, will proceed to use its own muscle tissue to provide energy for the brain and other vital functions.
Probably you’ve noticed or witnessed, maybe even experienced the ‘wasting away’ look on one under severe stress. They physically deteriorate and the immune system breaks down leading to opportunistic infections (flu, colds, pneumonia, viral invasions) and inflammatory conditions (arthritis, asthma and skin disorders). Immune deficiencies can lead to heart disease, multiple sclerosis and cancer.
The best nutrient requirements during stress are protein, vitamins (A, C, E and B complex), essential fatty acids, calcium, and magnesium and trace minerals.
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