While Eastern philosophies have been practicing and touting the relationship between nutrition and stress for thousands of years, the Western world has certainly taken its time to warm up to the idea. We now know (and acknowledge) that stress directly compromises the ability to digest, absorb, metabolize, and eliminate nutrients. This can be a huge realization for people who may be trying everything under the sun through diet and exercise to lose weight and become healthier but have found no lasting results.
Why is this possible? During the fight-or-flight response that is triggered by stress, the body overrides the metabolic processes needed to digest, absorb, metabolize, and eliminate nutrients. In the natural world, we would need all our senses heightened in order to survive a stressful situation. However, in modern times, a stressful situation (9 times out of 10) does not involve physical harm or death (like being attacked by a bear in the wild), rather, we are sitting at a computer, possibly being yelled at by our boss. But our body does not know the difference. It simply reacts to the stressful situation and inhibits other functions to be able to effectively cope.
Not only does the body override its own metabolic processes, it also uses water-soluble vitamins and many essential minerals for energy production needed for the fight-or-flight response. This also, unfortunately, still occurs when sitting at your computer and no real physical movement occurs. So, as we can conclude, after stressful occurrences throughout the day, we need even more vitamins and minerals to make up for the stores we just used, however, our bodies, most often, do not receive replenishments and we become depleted or deficient.
The food we reach for when we feel stress only adds to the problem. Many times we feel we may deserve a certain food or treat when we feel stressed to make us feel better (which, as we know, only lasts temporarily). Reaching for the high sugar, high fat, high calorie, low nutrient foods is very common, but, as we can see, only adds to our budding nutrient deficiency issue. Our body needs highly nutritious foods devoid of chemicals, hormones, and toxins to replenish our stores and maintain homeostasis (health).
I have definitely completed a stressful workday and reached for the tastiest treat I could find to compensate my stress levels. But having the knowledge about how my body reacts to stress and the food I put in it definitely makes me think twice about what I put into my body during that stressful time. This is not to say we never deserve any treats in situations like that, but reaching for whole, high quality, unprocessed foods will help our bodies respond to the stressor in the best possible way (like this Apple Cinnamon Seeded Granola). Accompanying whole foods with stress-reducing practices such as yoga, meditation, reading, walking in nature, or any that fit your personality and schedule are important daily routines to try and maintain for adequate nutrient absorption (..and sanity).
Information in this post was found through:
Seaward, B. (2015). Managing Stress: Principles and strategies for health and well-being (8th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.