How to nutritionally handle stress so you don’t burn out

Stressed? Worn out? Tired from the crazy amount of tasks you’re trying to fit in one day? We’ve all been there. As a student dietitian currently on full time prac, working a casual job on weekends, trying to keep up with my social life, intent on continuing to share my passion through this platform and finish my 7 books that I am half way through (avid book lover here), I get it. Life gets insane. And sometimes (understandably!) we get stressed.

pexels-photo-66440Let me get real with you for a moment – when I get stressed, I eat. I seem to be a stress eater (still partially in denial). We all have a similar situation. When we get stressed, most of us usually eat, and we usually run for the comfort foods – the chocolate, the ice cream, the Tim Tams. Now I’m all for a little bit of this and that – everything in moderation – but we know the cycle, and we also know it’s probably not the best for our health in that moment. Let me explain to you why you would be right.

The thing about us running to sugary, junk foods is that when our bodies are in ‘stress mode’ it doesn’t process foods the regular way it would when we are cool, calm and collected.

When we are stressed, our bodies enter ‘fight or flight’ mode – it sees stress as a threat and gets ready to attack or run. In this mode, your body pretty much stops using any systems not essential for running or fighting and instead focuses all it’s energy on getting ready to escape or attack.

How does the body prime you for this? When you’re stressed, stored sugars in the body (that are used to help you function throughout the day and fuel your brain) get mobilised like soldiers and circulate in the blood waiting to be given the order of where to go – e.g. the muscles if need to bolt at some stage. When you’re stressed for long periods of time, your body freaks out even more and actually starts to break down your muscles and convert it to glucose to provide even more fuel if an attack or escape is required. No wonder we feel so depleted of energy since most of our energy sources are leaving our cells to prepare for battle! Elevated levels of these sugars for a long period of time can actually be really dangerous and detrimental to our health. And just think, we might be adding to the problem if we are running to the sugary foods when our body is already in this state of alarm!

lion-predator-big-cat-cat-162093Secondly, I’m not sure about you but whenever I’m stressed for a good chunk of time, I end up getting sick. Why? When our body is constantly stressed and in that ‘fight or flight’ state, our immune system gets put on the back burner (apparently you don’t need that if you are being chased by a pack of hungry lions). So how do we get through our unrealistic to-do list? The best way is to find activities to help us de-stress and to fuel our bodies with healthy options loaded with vitamins and other nutrients so that we can get through that deadline without passing out at the end.

How to eat for your immune system when you are stressed:

#1. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are full of vitamins and antioxidants that are always important but even more so in times of stress when your body’s immune system is down. For those of you who haven’t heard the term ‘antioxidants’ before; antioxidants are compounds that protect the body against ‘free radicals’ (which are damaging to the body). While you can get some vitamins that act as antioxidants from a supplement, you actually get greater benefits if you eat it from the original wholefood source. Not sure how to fit more fruit and veg in? See my previous post on how to fit more goodness into your day.

#2. Eat foods with probioticspexels-photo-128865

Did you know your immune system also has a role in gut health? When everything is functioning normally, your immune system helps to protect your gut by blocking nasties like bacteria and viruses from being absorbed into the body. When your immune system goes down like in times of stress, the soldiers who barricade the tunnels may not be as strong. Eating foods with pre and probiotics like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and other fermented foods help to balance your gut bacteria and can give your gut a boost to protect your body from those nasties.

How to destress when scheduling time to destress stresses you out:

What a tongue twister title. There are millions self-help blogs, quizzes, podcasts, books out there with great and amazing tips and ideas on how to destress – I’ve probably read half of them. The main thing that I have learnt is that unfortunately we aren’t invincible like I’d like to believe we are. In order to maintain stability, we need to take some time out regularly to destress, and recuperate. I’d even encourage you to schedule it – it’s that important. Here are a couple of my favourite de-stressing ideas that also help boost immunity:

pexels-photo.jpg#1. Get out in nature

There is just something about it. How beautiful and divine the colours in nature are. I find it soothing, relaxing and peaceful. My favourite is a walk along the board walk at the beach or somewhere where there are lots of trees – this way I’m actually multitasking and ticking off my exercise for the day at the same time!

#2. Do something active

Exercising has actually been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels and improve immune function. When you exercise, your body releases a compound called ‘endorphins’. Endorphins act a little bit like a ‘happy-pill’ + a panadol/aspirin. They interact with your brain and reduce your perception of pain. When you are stressed, endorphins interact in the same way, where the ‘pain’ is the body’s state of distress and it actually works to relieve some of that stress.

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