I don’t have to tell you that for almost a year now, most people have been living in a state of constant and overwhelming stress. Between the pandemic, isolation, remote learning, political and social unrest, and the day-to-day stressors in each of our lives, a massive amount of stress is on our shoulders.
And as a health expert, that scares me.
Stress is a silent killer. It’s more acid-producing than anything you could put in your mouth. In fact, study after study shows how exposure to trauma, chronic, high levels of stress, and even just stressful periods of life makes people more likely to develop autoimmune diseases.
Not only that, but stress can literally poison the brain and the body. It leads to a build up of free radicals, the potentially cancer-causing, Alzheimer’s-inducing atoms that damage DNA and age your cells.
Stress makes you more susceptible to both common illnesses and serious diseases. It also zaps your energy, makes it harder to lose weight, and simply makes life less enjoyable.
I know, I know, you’ve already heard the message to reduce your stress. We hear it from all sides – from our doctors to articles online to our family members. The question is always, but how?
The truth is, it’s not possible to reduce your stress completely. We are living through a stressful time. What we need to do instead, is to move into a peak state so you can handle the stress that comes at you, instead of your stress handling you.
That’s why you need to shift from STRESS EATING to STRENGTH EATING.
Stress eating is the way most Americans eat most of the time. It means LOTS of sugar, fried foods, and a diet with a backbone of crappy carbs. And there’s a reason this is the way stressed-out people eat.
When you are stressed, your body keeps pumping out cortisol (the stress hormone), which cues your hunger hormones to crave more sugar since it thinks you need that quick-burning fuel so that you can fight or flee.
our body doesn’t know and doesn’t care whether the stress is from traffic or from an actual threat on your life. It just thinks, “I’m in danger, give me sugar so I can get out of here!”
We are literally marinating in our cortisol, and it drains us of the minerals and nutrients we need to perform, both mentally and physically. That means if you don’t find another way to handle your stress, your body will keep craving and needing sugar.
On top of that, part of the problem is that the way most people stress-eat just leads to MORE STRESS! What do I mean by that?
Let’s say your way of handling a stressful day is to sit down to a big bowl of acidic pasta. Or maybe it’s after-dinner ice cream for you. Or a glass of wine… that turns into 3 glasses.
You might feel better while you’re eating it. Maybe even for about 15 minutes after. But then, you know what happens.
First, the guilt kicks in, followed by the stomach ache – or acid reflux, bloating, gas, etc. One of the first ways your body tells you that you’ve taken on too much toxicity is digestive problems. These foods and drinks feed the bad bacteria along your intestines, and make it harder for the good bacteria to fight back.
A bit later, maybe a couple of hours after you ate, your blood sugar levels start to crash, which sends an alert to your brain to panic because it needs glucose to keep running. So your brain releases cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes you want to eat sugar as a stress response, as we discussed already. So you eat some more sugar and carbs.
Next, you might get a headache or have trouble sleeping that night. Eating highly acidic foods makes it harder to get a good night’s rest AND leads to headaches for lots of people.
And then you probably know what’s coming next… If you eat this way for a few days in a row, suddenly your pants are fitting tighter, your gut is not as slim as it was a few days earlier, and now you’re feeling extra guilty, and more stressed than before this vicious cycle started!
And this is to say nothing of the other stressors eating this way can cause, like skin issues, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and fatigue and sluggishness.
So now that you know why stress eating is so bad, what should you do instead?
What I call strength eating is a much more optimal way to eat and live. It’s priming your body for performance with the best possible fuel.
You likely know that going for a walk or a run can clear your head. That’s because exercise triggers the production of feel-good chemicals that help your body and brain respond better to stressors. Those chemicals include endorphins, which improve mood and lower pain, and serotonin and dopamine, which literally make you happier. Getting outside, running, or walking also lowers your levels of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Well, the good news is there are more ways to reduce stress hormones and boost feel-good hormones than just exercise. In a sense, you can trick your body with what you eat.
Instead of reaching for sugar and crappy carbs when your stress levels rise, give your body what it wants – in a healthy form.
When you’re feeling stressed, eat more:
- Foods rich in healthy fats that will calm your brain – coconuts, avocados, hemp, flax, and chia seeds, and fatty, low-mercury fish.
- Foods high in natural fiber – these are carbs too but complex carbs that keep you energized longer – dark, leafy greens like watercress, kale, and spinach, Swiss chard, avocados, artichokes, peas, okra, squash, Brussels sprouts, and quinoa.
- Protein-rich plants to keep you feeling fuller longer – lentils, chickpeas, adzuki beans, lima beans, raw almonds and cashews, as well as the occasional healthy animal protein like wild-caught salmon.
Shifting to these foods will help you ditch the mindset of depriving yourself, and embrace strength eating as a way to manage the stress that comes at you, rather than relying on sugar and crappy carbs.
Sugar hijacks your hormones and your brain, making you not just crave more sugar, but actually need it on a cellular level. Like any true addiction, it’s almost impossible to beat with willpower alone.
That’s what led me to write my new book, GET OFF YOUR SUGAR: 7 Steps to Crush Your Cravings, Boost Immunity, and Fire Up Your Fat-Burning Engine. You’ll get access to the same approach I’ve used successfully with 120,000 patient visits in my wellness clinic in Manhattan to kiss sugar goodbye.
Strength eating is part of my powerful yet easy-to-follow program with practical tips to kick the sugar habit in your real life, including stressful times. Whether you eat sugar 10 times a day, or you have already embraced a healthy lifestyle, this book will make it easier to get off your sugar and stay that way.
GET OFF YOUR ACID!