Stress and diet: How do they affect you?

Work and life balance is a combination that can push our stress levels to near breaking point! While many of us who suffer from stress can pinpoint the main causes, we often fail to manage it and put measures in place that reduce its burden. Stress can evolve into serious issues such as depression, social withdrawal and ill-health, which is why managing and preventing it is so important. In this article, I want to talk about our how our diets can be both a cause and cure for stress.

Our diets impact our health in many ways without us even realising and certain traits can collectively lead to issues such as tiredness and fatigue which affect the way we function and ultimately cause stress. A prime example of this is with caffeine intake, which many people over-consume through coffees and soft drinks to cope with tiredness and dips in energy levels. This is somewhat of a vicious cycle, however, as the excess caffeine can result in poor sleep and therefore be the reason why we are suffering with tiredness in the first place and not to mention the other potential side effects of excess intake such as anxiety, restlessness, stomach pain and heart palpations.

In contrast, fatigue and tiredness could be a result of us not getting enough iron or vitamin B-12 through what we eat. In these circumstances, altering our diet to include rich-sources of these nutrients will help to manage the problem and have us feeling healthy, happy and a lot less stressed!

Those are just two scenarios and there are various other ways in which diet and stress affect one another, for example stress and anxiety experienced in someone’s personal life can impact their appetite and lead to poor intake, weight loss and illness (think about how often illness follows a period of stress and not looking after ourselves properly). In contrast once more, a diet that includes lots of processed and convenience food can lead to weight gain that can cause stress through unhappiness over body image and anxiety around the associated health risks.

Are your stress levels and diet a problem?

Clients who suffer from stress often attribute the main cause as work and many fail to realise the connection between diet, health and stress.

Many report similar issues that can be linked to diet and stress such as low energy levels, difficulty concentrating, poor sleeping patterns, irregular bowels and various other issues. On assessment of their diets, there are often significant aspects that can be improved such as fibre intake, which the majority of the UK fail to eat enough of and therefore foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts can help to increase these levels. Doing so will provide a long list of health benefits, such as helping to control blood sugar levels, reducing cholesterol, improving gut health, bowel movements and immunity and losing weight.

Many city workers struggle for time and therefore haven’t much option but to buy food on the go, which often leads to foods that are dangerously high in sugar and saturated fat. This doesn’t have to be the case however and with a some education and guidance, clients begin to understand which foods to look out for when shopping for a healthy lunch or dinner and which foods need to be eaten in moderation to avoid over-indulging. I use the phrase ‘over-indulge’ and this is important because indulging occasionally can be a good thing - our diets should still provide us with pleasure! I advocate all foods (within reason) and there is no need to single out particular ones unless indicated by a medical condition. When eaten in moderation, all foods can make a healthy contribution to what we eat and having an occasional ‘treat’ will help ensure that our diets do provide us with pleasure as opposed to being a restrictive, repetitive routine that leads to unhappiness. The important thing is that the balance is right for you as an individual and the diet is one that can be maintained long-term to keep you both physically and mentally healthy!

Making positive changes

Managing your diet around your lifestyle and individual needs is a big step towards reducing stress and avoiding some of the negative consequences discussed. The combination of busy lifestyles and the availability of low-cost convenience foods are often to blame when we find ourselves suffering, however, it is never too late to make positive change that will reap various benefits for your health and well-being.

Each of us are different and in order to make these changes it may be that support is needed with nutrition education, meal planning, cooking ideas or simply the motivation to implement and maintain a plan. Whatever the type of support you need with diet and lifestyle changes, it is always advised to seek this from a qualified professional such as a registered dietitian or accredited nutritionist.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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