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The Importance of Good Nutrition in Times of Stress

There are some people out there who have a naturally healthy mindset
about food. They automatically perceive food as fuel, and nothing else.
They make choices about what to eat based on what their daily
nutritional requirements are, and they don’t think too much about any of
the other aspects of food. For the rest of us, though, eating can be a
minefield of emotional attachment, and sometimes downright hedonistic
indulgence. We eat because we love it, because certain foods send the
pleasure centers of our brains into overdrive. We choose particular
foods because we are craving a certain taste or texture, or even because
they reminds us of some pleasant, happy memory. This sort of behavior
is okay in small doses, but when high stress situations pop up,
sometimes things can get out of control.

The Importance of Good Nutrition in Times of Stress

Comfort eating is often a big pitfall when stress is at a high. If
you are under serious pressure at work, and mashed potatoes with butter
remind you of simpler, happier times when Mom would make delicious meals
and you didn’t have a care in the world, it’s tempting to want to spend
your evening stuffing your face with those pleasant reminders of your
childhood. After all, you’ve had a hard day, so you deserve to have a
treat, right? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional
indulgence, but consider this: although you may be quelling your anxiety
temporarily, that little bit of escapism can cause problems both in the
short-term and down the road, especially if it becomes a habit as a
coping mechanism.

When we are stressed, it is often more difficult for our bodies to
function at full capacity. We are more prone to things like infections,
migraine headaches, and depression. Add poor nutrition to the mix, and
what you have is a recipe for disaster. Food not only fuels our
systems, it also affects brain function and serotonin levels, as well as
more superficial things like the appearance of our hair and skin. If
you’re not keeping a healthy balance of vitamins and nutrients, or if
you’re loading up on things like sugar and starchy carbohydrates, you
are more than canceling out any perceived psychological benefits you
think you have gained from comfort eating. Not eating right can make it
more difficult for you to regulate your moods, and when you are under a
lot of stress it is of utmost importance to be as in control of your
emotions as possible. Also, let’s not forget the more obvious issue:
packing on pounds of excess fat is not healthy at the best of times, but
when you’re stressed and feeling under pressure, it’s easy to get in
the pattern of falsely associating unhealthy food with successful
coping, thus causing physical problems as much as emotional ones. This
is a habit which, if left unchecked, can make it very difficult to lose
the fat later. And of course as you become aware of your rising body
fat percentage, your self-confidence is likely to suffer, as well, only
adding to your overall anxiety.

But not all people are stress eaters; some have the opposite problem that they don’t
want to eat when they have too many other things going on.
Nervousness, pressure, and an overly-packed schedule can lead to eating
tiny, inadequate portions, or skipping meals altogether. This is
obviously just as harmful as overeating, as your body needs energy in
order to function. When you’re only getting small amounts of junk food
in sporadic bursts, the strain it puts on your internal organs can lead
to exhaustion, chronic headaches, and more serious medical problems.

So if you know that a period of stress is approaching, or you find
yourself already in one, do the smart thing — stock up on fruits and
vegetables, keep healthy snacks handy to combat the urge for comfort
eating, and make sure you make time to exercise. Monitor your portion
sizes, and make sure you eat moderate amounts at regular intervals, even
if you have to set reminder alarms to do it. Keeping your body in good
condition may seem like a hassle when you are under pressure to do so
many other things, but the physical and mental strength you gain will
help you deal with stress in a more efficient way, a benefit which far
outweighs the small amount of effort it takes to exercise and eat well.

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