Diet is one of the first casualty in a period of stress. Often at such times, you are low on time, energy and practically every other thing. It’s much easier to enter a fast food store and pick up confectioneries and take soft drinks. If you do your cooking, it’s probably the time you will prefer to grab at anything in your fridge like biscuits and any easy-to-eat food. Junk foods contain substances that may mimic or induce a stress response, or decrease the efficiency of the body’s metabolic pathways, thereby setting the stage for a much more pronounced physiological response to stress. Junk foods are also known to be high in fat, salt, sugar, caffeine and low in fibre. These kinds of food compromise the ability to deal with the pervading stressful situation. At this analytical juncture, let us examine some of the adverse effects of some of these substances.
Excessive sugar intake is found in soft drinks, chocolate, et cetera, may deplete vitamin storage in the body. Depletion of essential nutrients such as Vitamin B which is necessary for the functioning of the central nervous system may cause fatigue, irritability and anxiety. Also, the fluctuation in the blood sugar occasioned by ingestion of high sugar-containing drinks may cause headaches fatigue and irritability.
There are the long-term effects of high cholesterol on the body, but a high-fat diet also leaves you feeling lethargic as compared to how you would have felt if you had a menu, high in complex carbohydrates.
High sodium content diets as found in many pastries like mince pies, sausages, et cetera help to stimulate water retention invariably causing a rise in blood pressure. A frequent high sodium intake may cause hypertension.
The hyper-alertness resulting from the ingestion of caffeine-containing drinks may accentuate stress-induced symptoms. Caffeine stimulates the release of stress hormones.
The physiological response of the body to chronic stress places a lot of demand on body nutrients, and this may be sufficient to cause a depletion of body stores of vitamins and minerals. This becomes more pronounced if the eating habits are poor and unable to replenish the body’s store of micronutrients. The effect of this is that the body will be unable to mobilise fats and carbohydrates for energy production, and of course, there are the other symptoms of hypervitaminosis (low levels of body vitamins) like depression, insomnia and low mental alertness.
Food and Brain Functions
The brain is the body’s central controlling process. It functions and communicates with other units of the body through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters transmit messages between neurons. Some neurotransmitters have excitatory effects on neurons, and others have inhibitory effects. A change in the concentration of a single neurotransmitter may either increase or reduce the neurotransmitter activity, thereby affecting the balance of activities in the brain. For example, if a neurotransmitters actions within a cluster of cells is excitatory, then increasing its concentration will further excite the cells. Some of these neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, acetylcholine as synthesised from the nutrients obtained from the diet. And because they are diet responsive, the manner in which you respond to stressful events is both a function of your coping skills and your diet.
Stress and Eating Patterns
Some people eat poorly when stressed while some others become voracious. Neither is a good response to stress. Those in the latter category tend to gain weight when stressed and this could reduce self-esteem further worsening the situation of stress. The increased craving for food is linked to the brain chemistry. Some researchers are of the opinion that when the brain cells lack serotonin, they trigger a desire for carbohydrate-rich foods that can facilitate serotonin production. In other words, food serves as a tranquillizer. Such persons may not understand why they eat, but the experience tells them it helps to cope better. What can I do even I fall into this category? You should find other healthier alternatives to dealing with stress. Regular aerobic exercise changes brain chemistry in much the same way that eating does. It, therefore, helps to moderate your appetite so that you are not likely to overeat when stressed. As long as you do other things to relieve stress, you’re eating a well-balanced diet, and you are willing to keep yourself from overeating, you should be able to get on top of it.