A Diet fro Stress
A Diet for Stress
By Nicole Clark, RD
Four years ago the CDC reported that 69.2% of American adults over the age of 20 were overweight or obese. Perhaps in response to this endemic, new fad diets are around every corner. Ironically, all of these fad diets appear in an attempt to combat the one diet we can’t seem to shake - the infamous Western diet.
The Western Diet, “a diet loosely defined as one high in saturated fats, red meats, ‘empty’ carbohydrates—junk food—and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood, and poultry” per one dictionary definition. To clarify, ‘empty’ carbohydrates can be read as added sugar. The highly palatable sweetness of sugar has long been a reward to the human taste buds and even more so to the psyche. However, the sweet reward for our ancestors came in the form of highly nutritious, seasonal fruit, in limited supply. Now, the double chocolate brownie with ice cream fills in as a sweet reward, with considerably less nutritional value.
Sugar not only stimulates the tongue, it is also highly “palatable” to the brain. While not a direct comparison, numerous studies have found that sugar (sweetness) and fat create similar addictive responses to illegal drugs, most notably cocaine. That said, consider the psychological implications on a society surviving on diet rich in these two components. Have Americans truly become addicted to the Western Diet? The evidence is leaning towards “yes”.
Of course, it isn’t as simple as “food tastes good so eat more”. It seems that chronic stress may be acting as a key ingredient in the obesity epidemic. Chronic stress changes the way neurons in the brain operate. This change may be altering reward sensitivity, preference for hyper-palatable foods, as well as metabolic changes. In this perfect storm, we have a nation where most people experience chronic stress and live on a diet that complements the enhanced reward sensitivity induced by the stress.
If diet after diet has failed to help you reach and sustain a healthy weight goal, consider changing your technique. How would you rate your current level of stress? More importantly, how do you deal with this stress? No one stress reducing technique works for everyone. Consider how you respond to stress and match a technique to fit it. It may take some practice. Take note of what makes you feel better, other than high fat, high sugar foods and practice those techniques when stress seems to be getting the best of you. Here are a few examples of techniques you may wish to start with, depending on how you react to stress.
Anger/body tension/agitation -
1. Body scan – close eyes, scan body head to toe, relax muscles as you scan over them. Repeat as needed.
2. Deep breathing
3. Take 5 minutes to read or watch something funny
4. Exercise, increase heart rate for 10 minutes
5. Visualization – put yourself in a peaceful/ happy environment
6. Go outside for fresh air
2. Practice positive thinking
3. Gratefulness – say 5 things you are grateful for
4. Tai Chi
5. Give out 3 compliments
6. Eat fruits and vegetables and practice really tasting them
The combo - internally tense, externally frozen
1. Power walk for 10 minutes
2. Grounding - in a quite area, visualize yourself as a tree with roots extending deep into the Earth. Send your cause of stress down through your roots until it disperses.
3. Yoga - bring awareness to breath and body
4. Walk away from situation - temporarily or permanently