The relationships between stress and nutrition
Stress and nutrition are interconnected in several ways.
I sometimes hear the comment, “For a nutrition coach you sure talk a lot about stress!” I probably spend half my time talking about stress – what causes it, how it affects the body and how to minimize the impacts of chronic stress.
So, why do I spend so much time talking about stress instead of food?
The simple answer is that stress affects your digestion and your nutrition needs. And, I know that everyone has stress in their lives. Many women are constantly in a state of fight or flight because of deadlines at work, traffic, the news, pressure to be a good mom all the time, worrying about their kids’ physical and mental health because of COVID, social media and the conflicting messages about how to take care of themselves.
Let’s break this down more…
Stress and the Digestive System
First, chronic stress stops our bodies’ digestive systems from working effectively. If someone is under chronic stress, they are probably experiencing some digestive issues – and some might be so used to the issues they don’t even notice them anymore.
Dry mouth, acid reflux, gas, nausea, changes in appetite, bloating, constipation, and bowel disorders can be signs of stress affecting your digestive system. Other less obvious signs could be food sensitivities, nutrient deficiencies and mental health issues (remember your gut health is related to your mental health). Do any of these sound familiar?
So, people experiencing chronic stress can eat the best foods (whatever that means for their body’s unique biochemistry) and take the best supplements (again, what the means is unique to their body’s needs) but that won’t make them feel their best if their digestive system isn’t working effectively to break down and absorb the nutrients. So, if I’m working with you and you’re under stress, I’ll start by helping to support your digestive system.
Stress, Nutrition and Cravings
Second, stress increases cravings for sugar and caffeine. Chronically stressed and tired people need lots of fuel to keep going. This means cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates (pasta, bread, baked goods, sweets, etc.) – or caffeine. So, the problem is that when they respond to these cravings, they can actually start a cycle of cravings and crashes. I call this the mood and energy rollercoaster. So, if you are stressed, I’ll help you with need strategies to reduce cravings and get off the rollercoaster.
Stress and Nutritional Support
stressed bodies need extra nutritional support. Stress affects all body systems and depletes some vitamins, minerals and enzymes quickly. People need enough of the proper nutrients to help support their bodies, especially when they experience chronic stress. Without the proper nutritional support, the immune system, hormones, and mental health can all suffer. So, if you are stressed, I’ll be paying particular attention to supporting the body systems that are affected by stress (spoiler alert: Third, that’s all of them, but exactly how stress impacts YOUR body is unique). I’ll also help you build resilience to counter the effects of chronic stress.
Stress Affects Thinking and Behaviour
Fourth, chronic stress affects how people think and act. Research shows that your thoughts and perceptions about stress affect your physical and mental health. When people believe that stress is harmful or out of their control, it can impact how their bodies heal and their long-term health and wellness. It can literally shorten their lifespan (source). So, if you are stressed, I’ll take the time to explain how stress affects your body and how you can change your perceptions and behaviour to reduce the impact of chronic stress through nutrition and other strategies.
Stress Makes it Hard to Change
Finally, people experiencing chronic stress usually don’t have the mental, emotional and physical resources to make nutritional or lifestyle changes even if they understand the benefits of those changes. People who report the most stress are the least likely to maintain lifestyle changes that support their health and wellness (source). Plus, in stressful situations, people tend to revert to familiar habits that feel good in the moment like comfort foods. So, if you are dealing with chronic stress, I provide the support to help you make incremental and sustainable changes.
Stress and Nutrition are Interrelated
So, as you can see, it is really important to talk about stress alongside nutrition. I spend lots of my time working with women to reduce their stress and its impact on their bodies. Then they are supported to make sustainable changes and when they make changes to what, when, why and how they eat, they can actually see results.
In my coaching work, talking about stress and teaching women how it impacts their bodies is at least as important as helping them understand how the foods they eat affect their health.