How to Reduce Negative Effects of Stress and Improve Vitality Through Nutrition
Nutrition means the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. Vitality means the state of being strong, active and full of energy. Our food contains nutrients that can either support or damage our body in its life functions, depending on what type of food we eat.
When we experience health complaints, we aren’t always aware of the link to our diet.
Yes, we know, and it’s scientifically proven, that bad eating habits and stress can lead to serious illnesses, from high blood pressure to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and more. However, these serious conditions often start with milder symptoms. I believe we can prevent a lot of these conditions with a healthy lifestyle and diet.
When a serious health condition occurs, we end up in the hospital where, thankfully for us, there are great doctors and surgeons to help us out. However, we could help doctors and ourselves via prevention and taking care of our diet.
Exercise and sleep are essential for recovery. But, in order to be able to exercise properly and have a good night sleep, we need energy. The way we provide fuel for our bodies is through our diets.
We can’t always prevent difficult circumstances and negative stress in life. In some periods, it can even feel like stress is a normal part of our lives and we seem to have accepted the loss of vitality in this process. It’s nice to know that we can influence the way we react to stressful circumstances and support ourselves by embracing a positive lifestyle and providing the best fuel possible.
Making the right choice
Easier said than done, right? Sometimes my clients say: “I don’t crave a bowl of salad, I want chips and a glass of alcohol when I feel stressed”, “For pain I take painkillers and for stomach acid I have some tablets”, or “When I’m lacking energy I drink at least 6 cups of coffee or energy drinks and eat some cinnamon buns that will get me through the day”.
By giving in to chips, alcohol and other “quick fixes” clients experience negative emotions like guilt. Sometimes we feel that our current lifestyle isn’t right and even lose sleep over it. And, unfortunately, we’re all aware that negative thoughts and feelings usually appear in our brain when we want to go to sleep. But if we are aware of how our body functions it’s easier to make better choices. And guilt never helped anyone to feel better or make better choices. It is a matter of cause and effect.
Our body is designed to crave quick energy during stress and the food industry has designed quick fixes for the often-inconvenient ways the body has of telling us to take better care of ourselves. For example, who needs a headache and a stiff neck while a deadline is around the corner, right? Well, our body doesn’t care about deadlines, it is simply doing what it needs to do – surviving.
Avoid the quick fix
We need to take a different point of view and look at symptoms as a warning sign, something we need to take care of, instead of experience symptoms as dysfunctions of our body. Like feeling tired or stressed.
If you feel tired, your body is telling you to rest, if you mask that feeling with coffee or energy drinks, you are not giving your body what it needs – you are cheating it, paying it off with a “quick fix”.
Stress is a natural survival reaction. Our flight or fight response is a wonderful system if we need to run for our lives. A never-ending full email box and busy life will activate this flight or fight system, except it isn’t quite the same as running away from a hungry lion. The hormones that rule the “stress” system are mainly adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, whilst dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone also play a role.
Cortisol, in particular, is designed to make us crave carbohydrates (i.e. snacks!).
Aha, so we need more energy during times of stress because we get these signals from our brain influenced by stress hormones. The easiest way to achieve periods of energy and satisfaction is to grab processed foods, often snacks full of sugar, fats, salt and other ingredients that we sometimes can’t even pronounce. And those ingredients, especially sugar, will activate parts of our brain to make us want even more of where that came from. And so, a negative circle can develop that controls our habits.
Instead of giving in to what we think we need, what we want and crave, we need to give our body what it actually needs – what it is actually asking for.
Putting a plan in place
When we don’t support our body with proper nutrition, we not only suffer from the stressful circumstances that life throws at us, but we are at risk of overloading our internal system as well. Our digestive system is working hard and consumes a lot of our daily energy. In my work with clients, I see this negative circle a lot and clients feel it’s difficult to break when their stress levels are up, vitality is down, and they have no energy to change things. It is important to start with easy and simple changes to regain vitality. And take it step by step.
To improve vitality and reduce effects of stress, here are some tips to get you started:
- The first and easiest thing to do is creating a simple and healthy meal plan.
- Reduce sugar intake.
- Start adding fresh organic fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
- Drink a lot of water and tea with relaxing herbs like chamomile or green tea.
- Eat a good breakfast with complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal.
- Cut coffee intake (to max. 2 cups per day).
- Skip alcoholic beverages at least until stress levels are down.
- Eat dark chocolate.
- Add berries to shakes or smoothies, they are full of antioxidants.
- Boost your immune system by adding orange, garlic, ginger, walnuts, cashews asparagus and avocado to your diet.
- Add healthy fats like omega 3 by eating fish, walnuts, avocado or a supplement.
- Supplement vitamin D3 (except summer).
A simple recipe for an easy start in the morning: oatmeal chocolate shake with banana.
- One ripe banana
- One big cup of nut milk
- One teaspoon of raw cocoa powder
- Two tablespoons of organic oats
- A pinch of cinnamon
- Half ripe avocado
- Mix it and ready to drink
Remember – the best day to start eating healthy is today and your whole well-being will improve by doing so.
Diana ’t Hooft
CEO and founder of Natural Feedback
Diana is a nutritionist, vitalitycoach and health consultant who has worked for more than 20 years in the fields of health and wellness. She is the founder and CEO of her company Natural Feedback and has departments in the Netherlands and Sweden. Diana offers Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessments with nutrition and lifestyle coaching. Besides her work within the company she loves giving health lectures at corporations, organises workshops and she writes blogs for various online health platforms. In her private life you can find her hiking outdoors or in the kitchen preparing healthy meals. Her mission is to create awareness and coach people into better health.