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Stress can cause us to overeat, eat the wrong things, or eat inconsistently. It is important to stick to a regular eating plan. You can do the basic 3 meals a day, or break them down into more frequent smaller meals the way weight lifters and exercise gurus suggest. The goal here is to avoid the haphazard eating whenever you get around to it when it is usually the wrong thing, like snack food from a vending machine or fast food from a takeout place. The type of takeout place really matters. The typical burger or fried chicken joint is not recommended, but you can do healthy Chinese if you watch what you get from the menu. Chinese takeouts now have healthier menu sections that are low in sodium and fried foods, for example. Stay away from the cheap soy sauce in the packets as they contain MSG. Even if the restaurant boldly proclaims via a sign on their window that they don’t cook with MSG, there is MSG in those cheap little soy sauce packets. Just look at the ingredients. It isn’t called MSG, but hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Go to the supermarket and buy a known real brand of soy sauce, like Kikkoman, which brews its sauce the right way and contains no MSG. Keep a bottle at work and at home if you frequently do Chinese food. Also, get the lower sodium version, which is still pretty salty but hey it’s better than the full sodium one. Another possible good choice for fast food is sushi/sashimi, if you like that sort of thing. It is clean and really good for you. Greek food is always nice. I love gyros, and while the meat can be greasy, it’s still leagues above typical burger fare. Also, it is very “old” food – by that I mean people have been eating them for a couple of centuries. This is not everyday food. I’m just offering suggestions. Make sure that you drink plenty of water to wash out the sodium from your body. The real bottom line here is that you should lay off most fast food, when you do opt for it try to go for higher quality fresh cooked (or not in the case of sushi) fast food, and eat at regular set times through the day. Do not eat after 8:30PM. Night time eating will raise your insulin and you will store fat all night instead of burning it.
Serotonin is important in stress reduction. There is even a class of psychotropic drugs that are tailored to keeping more serotonin floating around in the brain, by preventing it from being soaked up. These are drugs like Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil, also called SSRI’s or Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Well, the good news is that there are certain foods which can cause more serotonin to be excreted. Complex carbs like pastas, breads, potatoes, brown rice, and cereals can increase your serotonin levels. Just make sure that you eat them in moderation because they will also pack on the pounds and kilos. Stay away, as best you can, from simple sugars like soft drinks and candy. They just throw sugar into your blood and then your body has to throw lots of insulin at it so that you don’t go into sugar shock. It also makes your pancreas work harder. Make sure that you get high quality protein from chicken, fish, and lean meats. Stick to wild caught (not farmed) fish and if you can try to hunt down some meat from grassfed animals. Grassfed is better than the typical grain fed because when cows and other meat animals eat grain like corn and soy their fat is saturated. When they eat what they evolved eating, grasses, their fats are loaded with good Omega 3 fats – just like fish! So, if you were weened on cornfed beef, unween yourself, stat! Back to protein. The amino acids in the protein are used for body tissue repair. Vegetables are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and some antioxidants, which fight the bad effects of stress on your body. Did you know that raw cabbage juice can cure most stomach ulcers in about 2 weeks time? It can. I prefer my cabbage in freshly made coleslaw. Potassium, which is in most fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy, nuts, and whole grains, is a mineral that promotes muscle relaxation and also helps your artery walls to relax a bit, thus reducing blood pressure. Some VERY high potassium foods are bananas, avocados, and baked white potatoes.
Stress and anxiety can lead to emotional eating. When we binge due to stress, we usually eat the wrong foods such as chips and crisps, chocolate (some chocolate is good but usually the darker less sweet variety- and even then in moderation), candy, cake, soda, and other forms of non nutritional empty calorie fare. If you are going to snack, you really should try to stick to things like fruits, nuts and seeds, vegetables like those handy baby carrot snacks, or if you are in the position to make one, a salad would do nicely. I find that when I fill up on healthy food like a salad the hunger passes and I feel better. Also, I don’t have the guilty feelings after, or the sugar crash.
Other methods that work to avoid binge snacking are diversions. You would be surprised how getting heavily involved with a hobby or some other distraction can make you actually forget about the food. Boredom breeds overeating and binging.
Earlier, I mentioned that you should not eat after 8:30PM. Some people put that an hour earlier, which is probably better advice. Also, you should try to get the bulk of your calories earlier in the day. Societies that eat the main meal mid day are traditionally not as overweight as those that eat heavy evening meals. There is a sound reason for this. It’s common sense, really. The more calories you take in at night, the less you can burn off before bedtime. Also, the insulin that is needed to counter the carbohydrates and any sugars will be floating around your bloodstream all night long, and insulin is not just the sugar neutralizing hormone, but the FAT STORAGE hormone. Think about that.
In some people, the caffeine in one cup of coffee in the morning can raise your stress hormone cortisol levels all day, for 10 hours or more. In others, it can raise their blood pressure. If you like coffee I suggest caffeine free, but don’t overdo that either due to the possible method of decaffeination. Also, there are some studies that point to decaf coffee and raises cholesterol levels, but the jury is still out on that. In moderation it is okay. If you are not caffeine sensitive then moderation will allow you to enjoy your cup of joe. If you are open to the idea, try tea. While tea has caffeine, it has much less than the same amount of coffee and tea also contains a chemical that buffers the effects of caffeine and avoids that jittery feeling, and it won’t raise your cortisol levels either. If you do not like the bland commercial teas, try a heavy Indian teas grown in the Assam region of India. It is as dark as coffee and stands up to milk or cream very well.
I hope that I was able to provide some useful information on the links between stress that cause us to eat unhealthy foods, how healthy foods can combat stress, and how our overall eating habits play into it all.