Stress. It kicks our butt. Let's face it, stress is a leading factor for many health risks and conditions. When we're faced with stress in our lives, our human biology is to crave foods that are sweet.
By indulging in these very foods, we actually relieve ourselves of our daily stressors. It's true! As reported in the Harvard study, Why Stress Causes People to Overeat, reports "Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions. These foods really are “comfort” foods in that they seem to counteract stress — and this may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods."
To make matters worse, we have a few justifications, aka "excuses", to support our stressed-induced cravings, making it that much more challenging to look after our best intentions of taking better care of ourselves. The excuses go something like this:
"I'm too tired and wiped out to shop or prepare/cook healthy meals."
"I'm too busy to fit in a moment of 'me' time."
"I work 10 hours a day, non-stop. When do I have time to restore my body's energy or give back to myself?"
"I don't have the energy to focus on myself when my life feels out of control."
"Even when I know I should be eating healthier and taking better care of myself, I don't feel like I deserve it. I just don't have it in me."
Unfortunately, these excuses are all too common in today's ultra-busy culture. And sadly, they're the very excuses that can ultimately take their toll on our bodies and our health. By indulging in our stressed-induced comfort food cravings, it can deviate us from our health goals such as weight loss, reversing diabetes risk factors or managing our heart health (high blood pressure and atherosclerosis) in exchange for stress relief. And truth be told, when the stress piles on and the foods we are putting in our body are less than ideal, it can accelerate the downward destructive spiral of putting our bodies at a higher risk of these debilitating health conditions.
While it's true that comfort foods can help numb ourselves from the daily grind, there are healthier strategies to help you combat stress. Before tackling the following list, I recommend taking one small step to slowly start to integrate healthier habits into your life. Remember, try not to add more stress by setting unreasonable expectations for yourself that you can't uphold. Start with one small habit and then add another habit once you're feeling the positive effects guiding you to take control of your life, your stress, and best of all, your health.
1. Take a short walk. If you don't have time to fit exercise into your day, again...do not stress. Take a 15-minute walk to unplug from your day to help you reset. The benefits from a 15 minute walk can be just the medicine you need to de-stress. If you can, get out in nature and connect to the beauty as you walk through it. Remember to take some deep breaths as this alone will do wonders for your body and your mind. If 15 minutes seems undoable, start with 5 minutes and go from there. Gradually work your way to 30 minutes or more a day to help you keep the stress away.
2. Keep healthy treats in reachand leave everything else at the grocery store. Stress has a way of breaking down the healthy cells of your body. Oxidative cellular stress is thought to be involved in the development of cancer. Think of healthy snacks/treats as a way to replenish and restore your body's natural defense system for fighting disease, illness and best yet...a natural anti-aging remedy! The phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables can keep you looking and feeling your very best. Try incorporating fruits such as wild blueberries, oranges or cantaloupe as a dessert replacement. They're super sweet and offer immune boosting nutrients to keep your body in tip-top shape!
3. Meditate. Take a one-minute moment to reflect on the stress you're feeling or going through. Now let it go by focusing in on your breath. Focus in on your inhale and then on your exhale. It's actually very challenging to think about anything else when you're focused on your breath. There are numerous studies that show meditation as one of the most effective ways to alter your thoughts, cravings and behaviors.
4. Seek support. Going at it alone is hard stuff. Believe me, I know it all too well. Having an accountability buddy or group you can reach out to is key to keeping on track. When we're alone in our struggle, we can make more of our stressful situation than there really is. Having a supportive network can relieve your stress by talking it out. Get out of your head and out of your rut by reaching out.
And although you may be thinking, "This all sounds great but my work is crazy-busy now and I just can't afford the time”. Well, when your body has finally had enough with fighting the stress in your life, it will let you know. In fact, your body will make you take the time. Stress is the number one leading factor to health related conditions such as heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, depression, gastrointestinal problems, Cancer and so many more. It's your choice: Choose to make the time now to take care of your body or let your body choose to take the "time out" when it's had enough.
Our next round of RejuveClub is beginning soon. If you're tired of going at it alone by numbing your life stressors with unhelpful or unhealthy foods and you're ready to take your health in your own hands by nurturing your healthy body, we should talk!
Now is the time to take the next step to a longer, stress-free, healthier lifestyle! Now let's do this!