I live in the capital of stressful living. While it would be awesome to leave the city myself or tell my clients to just check out and move to a farm or beach town- this is our current reality and we live here for good reason. Most of us need to stick it out (even if temporarily) and can’t fully hold our surroundings accountable for our chaos. We have no choice but to try and cope with our day-to-day stress from another perspective. Even if you don’t live in Manhattan, everyone has their challenges and the scale of their severity is relative to what they’re used to. While it sounds easier said than done, you probably already know that stress can create a lot more damage than just altering your appetite. When you feel overwhelmed, sad or anxiety-ridden, it can seriously screw up your health – including your metabolism. The adrenals may burn out, thyroid function declines, cortisol increases and serotonin decreases. The hormones go haywire and the only way to keep going is to shovel in food with sugar and caffeine (i.e., lots of carbs, snacks, coffee and sodas).
The highs and lows that derive from too many refined sugars and carbohydrates that we run to for boosting our serotonin levels have us swinging between temporary pleasure to complete depression. Right after scarfing down one of those stress-induced meals, we feel like we just got our fix. It’s like a drug that gives us quick bursts of energy to keep us going or gets us out of a funk. But within just a short amount of time we come down, possibly get irritable, nervous, or even feel guilty for what we just put into our body. Yet, since we never really satisfied our nutritional requirements with all those nutrient void foods, it’s likely our bodies will feel hungry before it really should be time to eat again. Although we know they are bad for us, it’s an addiction not unlike drugs to reach for those foods again to sustain the high.
Coffee is on the top of my list of things to avoid if you are stressed out. Among most people who have a lot of pressure, coffee is hands down their drug of choice. Even with the antioxidants this beverage can provide, there are more negatives than benefits for someone who needs to chill out. If you’re craving a morning boost, you are much better off going for organic green tea. You still get the caffeine and antioxidants you need without the acidity. Green tea also contains a compound called L-Theanine which actually eases anxiety. Multiple cups of coffee can spike cortisol levels which increase insulin and inflammation (and ultimately lead to weight gain). Coffee can also trigger anxiety or cause a nervous stomach. Running to the bathroom is the last thing you want on your mind when you have to give a presentation or you’re stuck in traffic rushing to work! The other digestive issue triggered by all this caffeine is increased stomach acid which can lead to hunger. Another side effect of this is insomnia, which may already be an issue with anyone who is heavily stressed.
Now that I bring up insomnia, let’s talk a little about sleepless nights. Having puffy eyes and looking cracked out the following day is bad enough but the lack of sleep produces increased levels of the hunger hormone “ghrelin” and decreased levels of the satiety/fullness hormone “leptin”. You probably have no desire to work out because you’re barely making it through the day as it is. You don’t want to perpetuate this seesaw of lousy sleep and using uppers all day to keep you going. When it’s finally time to come down and approach bedtime, your wheels are spinning and you’re screwed. Ambien™ anyone?
When stress gets the best of us and now becomes apparent in our physical well-being, it’s time to reflect on our life and make some changes. Take a look at who is dominant in your inner circle. Is your boss devaluing you or are your hours and responsibilities so overwhelming that they make you not want to get out of bed in the morning? Do you feel unsatisfied or a little dysfunctional in your relationship whether it’s with your spouse, someone you’re dating or someone you are hooking up with and are not even clear if you are dating? Are your friends negative or jealous? If so, this could be the root of many of your bad habits. You have to get a little selfish. The person inside you that wants to be liked or please everyone may need to take a different course of action.
I suggest doing two things here; specifically, a cleansing of house both inner and outer. For all those unwanted people who bring you aggravation, slowly start being unavailable. As for your employer, you may not have the leisure of quitting but you don’t have to let your job define you, either. If you’re not doing something you’re passionate about and not running your own business anyway, stay cool and use that frustration as a catalyst to create a new opportunity with another company or your own thing. Life is too short to spend at least eight hours a day doing something that makes you unhappy.
As you start eliminating the wrong people from your life and focusing on things that bring fulfillment, you will be in a better emotional place to change your eating habits. You won’t need to look at food for comfort. You will find that you are eating because you are truly hungry and not out of stress or nervousness. Eating without being harried, peer pressured or persuaded from the alcohol talking will allow you to eat in a more mindful manner and a clean diet will only become a side effect. The benefits will spill over to every area in your life improving health, relationships, and patience to not make big deals out of things that were not worth stressing over in the first place!