Due to Covid-19 and multiple lockdowns, we all have been in a house-arrest - we can't go out and mingle with friends, can't go to our favourite restaurant to have a wholesome experience and much more. All of this has increased the 'S' factor in our lives; and not to forget the stress that we had before pandemic - due to our work, relationships and lifestyle in general. Stress invariably leads to a bulging midriff. As per experts, long time stress leads to increase in hunger pangs.
This increased feeling of hunger has been linked to the 'flight and fight' response. When we reach a certain level of stress, we feel hungrier because the body believes that all the calories we ingested have been used up to fight the stress. We land up eating more and more.
The culprit here is the stress hormone 'cortisol', which is released in greater amounts when we feel stressed. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is closely linked to our metabolism. Cortisol:
- Manages how our body uses carbohydrates, fats and protein.
- Keeps inflammation under control.
- Regulates blood pressure.
- Increases sugar levels.
- Controls sleep.
- Boosts energy when under stress and balances out the effect afterwards.
Once the stress period ends, cortisol levels come back to normal. But with chronic stress and constant high levels of cortisol, it can have a detrimental effect on all your systems - from digestion to reproduction, from sleep to weight gain, and from headaches to heart diseases.
Increased cortisol levels increase the energy in the body but also increase appetite. It acts on increasing insulin production which leads to a fall in blood sugar levels, which again increase appetite. A cortisol storm usually pushes us to crave for sweet, fatty and salty foods, and we reach out for all sorts of unhealthy calorie dense foods.
Also Read: Watch: 5 Foods That Can Help You Beat Stress
To deal with this and to prevent your health going the wrong way follow these guidelines.
Here's How To Manage Stress Eating:
1. Eat healthy
Good wholesome nourishing food is a very important tool for dialing down stress. There are a lot of "health claims" about particular foods that work wonders. Actually, it's your whole meals that work well. A nutrient-rich meal made with seasonal fresh ingredients is the best for your body. Cortisol interacts with neurotransmitters in our brain that control our mood, so when we eat meals full of vitamins, minerals proteins and healthy carbs and fats, we nourish these transmitters. A healthy diet - rich in plant proteins (legumes, dals, nuts and seeds), healthy fats (omega 3 from Walnuts and fish) and complex carbs (whole grains) - is what your body needs. So make every meal count.
Your healthy meals must have:
a) Whole grains like whole wheat, oats, barley most of the time.
b) Proteins from dals and legumes at least in two meals and fish or eggs in one meal.
c) Adequate dairy, especially yogurt -500-600mls/day.
d) 5 servings of fruits and vegetables spread through the day.
e) One handful of nuts and seed mix- 15 almonds, 2 walnuts and 1 tsp of Flax, Chia seeds.
Knowing and consuming the right portion size along with healthy choices will ensure energy for your body and not fat deposition.
Exercise is a must! Whether at home or in a gym, this is a very important part for managing the stress hormone. Intensive training increases cortisol levels initially but it settles down later. Moderate to low intensity exercise actually lowers cortisol in our blood. Additionally, exercise increases the production of endorphins that are the natural mood elevators of our body. They induce a feeling of relaxation and optimism. Exercising will also give you some off time from things and thoughts that are bothering you.
3. Meditation, Yoga, Mindfulness, Deep Breathing
All these practices are ideal ways to relax our mind and body. Choose and practice a method that works for you and do it regularly.
Bottom line is that we need to learn to live with our fears, and deal with things that are not happening. Keeping our body healthy and mind positive will help us face life better.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.