Stress is the perception that we don’t have the resources to cope with a given situation. What triggers stress in my life may not be a stressor in your life. Regardless of the trigger, any adverse or demanding circumstance that results in mental, emotional or physical tension is considered stress. When the body loses its ability to remain in balance, any number of symptoms can occur.
What happens to the body when it is under stress?
Muscles tense, breathing becomes shallow, and the heart beats faster than normal. The increase in heart rate and muscle contractions are signals to the stress hormones (adrenaline, epinephrine, cortisol) to provide energy. This signaling affects your adrenal glands and liver, too. When stress hits, the hypothalamus tells the adrenal cortex to produce cortisol and the adrenal medulla to produce epinephrine. In turn, the liver is called upon to produce glucose, our body’s primary source of energy. Under normal conditions, if the body doesn’t use all the extra glucose in this fight or flight state, it can be reabsorbed. But pushed too far and too often, the body loses its ability to manage glucose, which can lead to diabetes in some people and general fatigue in others.
While there are a number of things we can do to manage our response to stress (e.g., exercise, meditation, learning to say no), good nutrition ranks high on the list with sustainable benefits. Here are three ways you can support your body and strengthen your resilience when under stress.
1. Hydrate: You’ve read it here before…DRINK PLENTY OF FLUID. A general rule is to drink half your body weight in ounces of fluid. That means about 65 oz of fluid for a person weighing 130 lb (130 lb / 2 = 65 oz). Highly active people may need more. If you don’t like the idea of counting ounces, monitor your urine. A well-hydrated person expels clear, light yellow urine every couple hours throughout his day.
The most supportive liquids for your body are pure water, fresh juice, herbal tea and mineral broth. Because dehydration puts stress on the body, and stress increases cortisol levels, staying hydrated helps reduce cortisol spikes.
2. Balance blood sugar: This is a topic of its own. Suffice it to say, unbalanced blood sugar levels lead to poor health. Skipping meals; waiting too long between meals; consuming too much sugar, caffeine, alcohol or fruit; eating too little fat or protein; getting too little sleep; even too much exercise can put huge stress on the body. Repeated cycles of blood sugar spikes (elevated insulin) and dips (elevated cortisol) can lead to mood swings, fat storage, cravings, fatigue, brain fog and poor decision-making. Creating meals that consist of whole, unrefined macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) in proportions and amounts that stabilize blood sugar for 4-5 hours is key to minimizing physiological stress on the body. For most individuals, this means eating three balanced meals and up to two snacks per day.
3. Balance macronutrients: Our bodies need carbohydrates, fat and protein. As the body’s primary energy currency, carbohydrates are important for brain, muscle and internal organ function, and they help regulate the metabolism of fat and protein. Recommended sources of unrefined carbohydrates are colorful leafy, crunchy, starchy vegetables and non-gluten grains. Strive for 50% of a given meal to be a variety of carbohydrates.
Regardless of the source (plant or animal), it’s important to get an optimal amount of protein throughout the day. Protein is a building material for growth, repair and maintenance, and it is needed for healthy immune function. Recommended sources include wild fish, organic or pastured meat and poultry, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. About 25% of your meal should be protein.
Without fat, our bodies don’t function well, and a poor functioning body means it is under stress. We need fat for proper metabolism, to make hormones, to transport vitamins, and especially for brain function. Recommended sources include avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butters, olive oil and ghee. About 25% of the calories in your meal should come of healthful fats.
Staying well hydrated, balancing blood sugar and eating a good mix of carbohydrates, fats and protein won’t lessen work demands, improve your child’s behavior or increase your bank account to be able to pay that unexpected expense, but these three nutrition tips will help to strengthen your immune system and build your resistance when you need it most.
For help creating a plan that will set you on a path for maintaining strength and improving your resilience, contact me by email or at 303-442-2492.
Here’s to your health and vitality!
I believe good health is as close as your kitchen. My nutrition practice is based on nutrient-dense, whole food and lifestyle choices that support health and wellness, especially during times of high stress and transitions. My role is to educate, guide and support individuals who want to break the stress-induced cycle of depletion and regain control of their health. Having passed the HNCB exam, I am a Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition® (Candidate). To learn more, contact me at 303-442-2492 or by email.
Bauman, E. (2012). Foundations of Nutrition. Pengrove, CA: Bauman College
Shaw, G. (2009). Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/diet/water-stress-reduction
Tovian, S., Thom, B., Coons, H., Labott, S., Burg, M., Surwit, R., Bruns, D. Stress Effects on the Body. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-body.aspx