It’s no secret that stress isn’t healthy. From breakouts to high blood pressure, insomnia, low energy and weight gain, chronic stress has serious consequences for your wellbeing.
The day-to-day strains you encounter in your personal and professional lives are often unavoidable, but you don't have to let them hamper your health.
When your body is suffering from long-term stress, its fight-or-flight reaction, (our natural alarm system) is constantly on red alert. This 'state of emergency' prompts your adrenals - the tiny glands situated on top of your kidneys - to release a huge surge of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol.
The adrenaline boosts your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure and increases your energy supplies to prepare for either 'fight' or 'flight'. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream and enhances your brain's use of this glucose. It also alters your immune system responses and shuts down your digestive system, your reproductive system and growth processes, as your brain instinctively knows that these aren't a priority when you're in a stressful situation.
On a day-to-day basis a well-functioning body naturally produces just the right amount of adrenaline and cortisol it needs. But if you're living in a constant state of high stress, due to strains in your personal life or at work, this can actually alter your levels of these hormones, which can lead to a whole host of unwelcome side effects.
Spot the signs
If you're constantly worn out, the chances are that you've gained weight, too. Countless studies have proven the link between stress and excess weight gain, specifically around the stomach area. However, making the right dietary and lifestyle choices could help you to lower your stress levels, leave you feeling much healthier and in turn change your body shape for the better.
During periods of prolonged stress, an over-production of cortisol turns calories into fat. As abdominal cells have more cortisol receptors than any other part of the body, most of that fat gets stored around the tummy. By working with our bodies we can break these patterns. When the tension rises, you probably reach for chocolate or a caffeine hit, but this makes your body more stressed by messing with your blood sugar and cortisol levels, and, in the long run, piling on the pounds.
Soothe the storm
Certain foods, however, can soothe stress by lowering your cortisol levels and counteracting the damage on your body. When you're under pressure you need foods that help to stabilise your brain chemistry and offer the satisfaction that's missing from quick-fix foods. Take inspiration from the original diets of our ancestors. The hunter-gatherer diet, based on the foods available to our ancestors, is the ideal stress-buster. It's low in sugar and refined carbohydrates and packed with vitamins and minerals designed to provide your body with optimum nourishment and to lower stress levels.
Feel-Good Food Rules:
Changing your eating habits will naturally help to lower
cortisol levels and shed pounds.
1. Eat protein sources such as free range eggs, organic meat or fish with each meal to regulate blood-sugar levels.
2. Good' fats, such as those from sardines, wild salmon, avocados, nuts and seeds, should make up your fat intake. Cook with coconut oil, olive oil or (a small amount of) butter.
3. Eat plenty of raw salad vegetables, which are full of fibre and key nutrients. Serve them tossed together with a drizzle of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil to help absorb the fat soluble vitamins.
4. Limit your intake of grains containing wheat and gluten, and try to avoid eating too much dairy, sugar, caffeine, processed fats and poor-quality meats.
5. Swap sugary, fizzy, empty calorie drinks for a healthier drinking option such as green tea or purified water.