Stress, what are you talking about? I have a candy bar available. Eating is definitely the first choice for many stressed out individuals. The abundance and relatively low cost of food has caused the corporate world to embrace food as the cure-all for long and stressful work schedules. Companies that expect long work hours routinely offer free food and well stocked break-rooms as perks. So, the question arises. Can eating really solve your stress problems? And perhaps even more to the point, should your diet or lack thereof be your stress solution?
Considering that at least 70% of Americans are overweight; it would be futile to insist, that at long as you do not have your eating habits under control, you are doomed to suffer with all the negative effects of stress. That said; there is no question that a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, can have a positive impact on your ability to deal with stress. Just don’t throw in the towel on stress reduction if you are not perfect in these areas. There are some small changes to eating habits that can go a long way to helping with stress reduction.
First, I would like to examine the impact your diet has on your stress levels. Then I will outline steps you can take to gain the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, as related to stress, without having to achieve massive weight loss or swearing off sweets.
This is not a diet post. I am not against dieting per say, rather it is important to distinguish between weight loss and good eating habits. It is very possible to eat well and still be overweight. Your weight is primarily a function of food quantity rather than food quality. Therefore, even without losing any weight, you can still make better food choices and reduce your stress levels.
I will start with breakfast, or whatever it is that you call the first thing you eat in the morning. Many people are in the habit of eating something convenient and sweet to start the day. Think donuts. Perhaps for you it is a sugar cereal, or if you are a more serious eater, pancakes with syrup. While this may be super easy and the path of least resistance, it will not serve your purposes well if your goal is to reduce stress. The best foods for the morning are high in proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. The proteins and healthy fats will provide your body with the energy you need to get moving, and complex carbohydrates will prevent the mid-morning crash that is so common. As an example, a scrambled egg on whole wheat toast, or a guacamole omelet with some granola, are amazing ways to start your day off right. If eggs or other proteins are really not your thing, stick to complex carbohydrates. A bowl of oatmeal is another simple way to start your day. Throw in some fruit chunks and cinnamon and you have a delicious and quick start to a great day.
Your body consumes the energy of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in different ways and at varying speeds. Blending protein with healthy fats is optimal for morning energy as the fat will jump start your energy levels and the protein will maintain the energy for an extended period of time. Simple carbohydrates including sugar, white flour and potatoes, also create an energy rush, but they are consumed rapidly and create a feeling of fatigue not long after the meal is completed. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grain flour, whole oats and the sugars found in fruits, provide a more lasting form of energy that will keep you going for a while.
Starting your day off with high energy prevents you from wasting the first half hour of your day on your favorite websites or checking out your fantasy sports standings (seriously, that is not the first thing you should do in the morning). Instead, you can hit the ground running and take on that big project you pushed off yesterday.
The main source of work-related stress is pressure. When you work slowly you fall behind, which leads to pressure and subsequently, stress. So, keep your energy up by eating a smarter breakfast, and your whole day will be off to a better start. If you get the hard work out of the way first thing in the morning, you will find that your whole work experience will be less stressful. This may seem counterintuitive. How can it be that taking on the hardest project right away will reduce your stress? This seems like a recipe for increased stress. The truth is though, that by attacking the hard project right away you will reduce stress in many ways. First, you will not fall behind and be faced with the crazy pressure that hits you when you realize the project is due tomorrow and you haven’t even started yet! Second, if you come into the office energized, using that energy to tackle your biggest problem is the best move. Your energy will generally not be higher than it is first thing in the morning. Use the extra energy to easily plow through the challenge instead of staying in the office until midnight because you couldn’t motivate yourself to look at this project until you absolutely had to. Finally, once you have completed the truly challenging task at hand, the rest of the day will seem easy by comparison.
Aside from breakfast, keeping your energy up throughout the day, allows you to work effectively during key times of the day, which in turn reduces work-related stress. In my next post I will discuss effective snacking habits as well as age old question: “to caffeinate or not to caffeinate?”
Tell me about how you deal with breakfast. I love to hear from you.