Nutrition and stress: How does a good diet affect your professional performance?
24 of October of 2022
Healthy eating is one of the main “tools” for disease prevention that we have; for various reasons, when we’re going through periods of hard work, stress, or feeling down or worried, we forget about it. And not only that, but we may change our eating patterns in a way that leads to performing worse in our day-to-day lives.
We have to realize that emotions, including stress, and food are closely related. Some emotions can be a cause of eating poorly or excessively, thus contributing to obesity, being overweight, and other problems that affect the body and its functioning, as well as having serious consequences.
Stress can lead to different failures in our eating pattern, notably including:
- High consumption of ultra-processed products, fats and sugar like sweets, chocolates, industrial pastries, fried foods, soft drinks, and so on. Foods that are high in calories and unsustainable and that don’t contribute to our bodies’ nutritional needs as “junk food” without any nutritional quality.
- Skipping important meals like breakfast to try to compensate for excesses the previous day, or not stopping to eat or eating in front of the computer, and then bingeing and not feeling hungry for dinner.
As you can see, these mistakes can be considered common among many employees during periods of heavy work and high stress. In the end, we fall into disorder, making poor choices of foods for our diet; the result is a lack of energy that can take its toll on us. In addition to these situations, we fall into “emotional hunger” that leads us to look for our “treat” or comfort food, leading to complicated relationships with food.
How can we identify emotional hunger?
When we get hungry and go to the fridge, try drinking a glass of water slowly and consider an apple. If the apple is enough, it’s physiological hunger. Otherwise, it could be emotional hunger, and the best thing is to distract yourself with something else.
A trick to be aware of when we are emotionally hungry is to make a diary of everything we eat and write down our emotions when eating.
What behaviors can help us break this habit?
These tricks can help fight or change this habit:
- Make a weekly menu; this helps reduce food waste and encourages good meal options. It’s best to know what you are going to eat and set schedules, and then see what you’re eating healthily. Choose seasonal foods to support sustainable eating.
- Choose satiating foods. For example, the most filling fruits are apples, oranges, and bananas. Soups are great low-calorie dinners or as a first course.
- Legumes are both filling and nutritious. Nuts, oats and whole grains, potatoes, and vegetables like carrots are also filling.
- Avoid sugar. Try not to keep it at home, and opt for healthier options like yogurt, fruit, etc.
The 10 foods you should include in your diet to avoid stress
- Complex carbohydrates: they increase serotonin in the brain (neurotransmitter related to emotional regulation). Include whole grains like oats, quinoa, rice, bread, and whole grains in your diet.
- Eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption as much as possible. It interferes with mood as well as sleep.
- Drink water and cut out sodas.
- Limit or avoid caffeine. Don’t drink caffeinated drinks. They can make you feel tense and nervous, as well as interfere with sleep.
- Incorporate fruits like:
- Bananas are rich in tryptophan, a serotonin precursor. It can be great for calming nerves and reducing anxiety.
- Berries like blueberries reduce cell aging and relieve stress.
- Citrus fruits that are rich in vitamin C.
- It’s important to opt for fruits that are in season. This way, you’ll consume fruit at its best, when it’s full of vitamins and minerals.
- Kefir: given the importance of intestinal flora in mood and how it can be altered due to stress, having kefir at breakfast can be a great way to combat stress. It is an excellent probiotic that helps maintain the balance in our intestinal flora.
- Leafy green vegetables: their high vitamin A, C, and E content, as well as minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, play a role in regulating cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Oily fish: a good example is salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They are involved in the secretion of serotonin and cortisol, as well as adrenaline regulators.
- Nuts: almonds, for example, are rich in zinc, vitamins B and E, and magnesium; they help minimize the effects of stress and are also filling.
It’s important to organize our days by having a meal plan with quality foods and making responsible choices of seasonal foods. It’s also vital to include a mix of animal and vegetable proteins, prioritizing vegetables, including dairy and whole grains. This means incorporating all the food groups in a balanced way and reducing foods packaged in plastic as much as possible.
We have to grocery shop for a healthy menu designed for the whole family. This way, we can contribute to a sustainable diet and be able to combat stress, thanks to foods involved in regulating stress hormones like cortisol. This way, we will feel much healthier and more flexible, and we’ll perform even better every day.
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