To Manage Stress, Look No Further Than Your Plate

By Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, Senior Fellow of Meadows Behavioral Healthcare

Eating disorders impact the entire family, yet the toll on each member may manifest in very different ways. While some family members may deal with the stress by talking with friends, and counselors, meditating, exercising, or doing yoga, others may deal with the issue in a more destructive manner. Turning to unhealthy foods to comfort is a common option. Many of my patients that are struggling to adopt a healthy way of eating find themselves falling back into unhealthy practices when the stress levels go up. This choice is actually a very rational one. After all, no one would deny that a doughnut, a cheeseburger, pizza, or a bagel may make you feel calm and comforted, even if the feeling is short lived. A 2010 animal study found that when rats were provided a twice daily supply of sugar, their stress hormones and heart rate levels went down. Sugar worked. That doesn’t mean it’s a healthy choice though. The combination of sugary, high carbohydrate and high fat foods are often referred to as “comfort” foods because they provide the medicine you’re looking for to deal with a stressful situation – but they also can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of chronic disease.

If unhealthy foods in your diet increase alongside your stress levels, you’ll want to find another option. The good news is, there are also healthy foods that can help you manage your stress. A recent study in the Journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that adults were more likely to manage mood in positive ways by eating foods high in antioxidants (like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains).  The authors noted that these foods help to fight against free radicals in the brain that could be associated with increased mental distress. Further, the study found that when coffee or an abundance of carbohydrates were consumed, stress response went up.

In addition to eating foods high in antioxidants, you may also want to consider starting your day with a higher protein breakfast.  One study found that doing so may help to reduce cravings and overeating that could creep up later in the day.  You’ll get extra points for choosing a stress-busting banana at breakfast as well. A recent study found that prebiotics (high in bananas) helped in restoring gut health and improved sleep in individuals going through stressful events. After you fill up on protein at breakfast, you can start to focus on getting some healthy fat in your day as well. That’s because studies have linked higher omega 3 consumption with lower levels of anxiety. Another study found that omega 3’s helped to reduce stress’s impact on cardiovascular health.

Finally, end the day off with some soothing black tea and a square of dark chocolate.  Researchers have found that both can help in the reduction of stress hormones.

Here’s what a stressless menu may look like

 

Breakfast: Egg frittata with sautéed mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and spinach with a side of whole grain sprouted toast.

Lunch: Arugula salad topped with olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped tomatoes with a side of wild salmon.

 

Dinner: Zucchini noodles with pesto and turkey meatballs.

Snack Options: Plain yogurt with mixed berries and chopped walnuts, square of 70% or greater dark chocolate, roasted chickpeas.

Drinks: Tea and lemon water.

Help for Eating Disorders

At The Meadows Ranch, we strive to teach women and young girls how to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. We see patients as complex individuals with common needs of nurturance and respect. Our staff strives to support each patient in learning to live in peace with others, with food, and with themselves. We find that a solid foundation in recovery is possible using the multitude of resources made available to those who seek treatment at The Meadows Ranch.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, please feel free to give us a call at 866-239-7381 or send us a message online. Our intake specialists talk to people every day who are in various stages of eating disorders and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

About the Author

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a diet and nutrition expert and best selling author of Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease.