Because you shouldn’t feel bad about stress-eating
By: Ashley Newell
It has been widely established that staying home and not having much to do turns into a staring contest with the contents of your fridge. Some people may often feel guilty for eating too much when they are not actually hungry. But this is absolutely more than okay – as long as you are eating the right things. You don’t have to only eat when you are feeling hungry. Food can do so much more for you than satisfy hunger or boredom. Feeling down? There are foods that make you feel happy! Feeling anxious? There are foods to relieve that stress! Feeling tired? There are foods that give you energy! Feeling sick? Yup, there are even foods you can use as medicine!!
To get a better idea of what to eat for mood and why, take a look at the following lists. However, before trying any of this out, it can not be stressed enough how important it is to be in the right mind frame while eating for correct digestion. Beach Fitness’ Nutritionist, Holly Barrett, states, “If you are not eating in a parasympathetic state (rest & relaxation) you are not digesting and, therefore, not absorbing any of the nutrients in the food you are eating to support mood. To get into rest and digest mode, before eating: practice gratitude, or mindfulness; take deep breaths; eat slowly, chewing food thoroughly; don’t multitask and eat; be present. Digestion starts in the brain, so you have to be aware of, and during, the process of eating.”
Foods That Make You Happy
Not being able to leave your house can often leave you feeling bored, trapped and eventually depressed. But if you pick the right food to eat, you may be able to avoid feeling this way. If you’d like to understand how food can make us happy, How Stuff Works does a great job of explaining it. To paraphrase, the brain regulates mood by using neurotransmitters to communicate with the rest of the body. There are chemicals found in these neurotransmitters that can help stimulate our bodies and minds, as well as calm us. And the chemicals in these neurotransmitters are created by compounds found in food, with some foods producing more neurotransmitters than others. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter most commonly linked to feeling happy. Here are a few foods that will help produce such chemicals in your body.
- Spinach – contains high concentrations of folate, a B-vitamin used in the serotonin creation process. It can help alleviate depression and reduce fatigue.
- Walnuts – in addition to serotonin, walnuts contain a large amount of alpha-linolenic acid, a plant based omega-3, which can help improve brain function.
- Avocados – are a good source of folate and omega-3. They also contain choline, an essential body nutrient and a serotonin booster.
- Green tea – contains l-theanine, an amino acid which can cross the brain-blood barrier and increase levels of neurotransmitters, including serotonin.
- Berries – berries are packed with nutrients and antioxidants, but it is actually their flavonoid anthocyanin (pigment) that has been linked to slower rates of cognitive decline, which in turn has been associated with decreased depression.
Foods That Relax You
Many people have found this lockdown and threat of illness to be very scary and quite stressful. We are all worried about what might happen to ourselves and our family members. It has even created a financial crisis for most people. So if you are going to be doing stress-eating anyways, you might as well eat foods to help reduce that stress.
Another benefit of serotonin is that it promotes relaxation and improves sleep, thereby reducing any stress or anxiety you may be feeling during these uncertain times. Tryptophan also aids in stress reduction. It is a chemical found in foods that the body uses to create serotonin. Healthline explains that tryptophan is an amino acid that “can be converted into a molecule called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), which is used to make serotonin and melatonin (hormone that regulates sleep).” So by eating the foods listed below, you’ll be able to find happiness, relaxation and a better night’s sleep, all-in-one!
- Chicken/turkey – all meats have high levels of tryptophan, but chicken and turkey will help keep cholesterol levels lower.
- Dark Chocolate – full of antioxidants and increases serotonin levels. Some research even suggests it may simply be the taste that comforts mood disorders.
- Turmeric – contains a compound called curcumin, known for preventing anxiety.
- Chamomile – contains high amounts of antioxidants proven to reduce inflammation, which can decrease the risk of anxiety.
- Fatty Fish – composed of tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids that help regulate the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which have calming and relaxing properties.
- Bananas – B-vitamins in bananas, like folate and vitamin B6, are key to the production of serotonin.
Foods That Give You Energy
It is almost ironic that spending so much time doing a whole lot of nothing can often make us feel even more tired or lazy. If you are having trouble feeling motivated or finding the energy to get up and move around, try to find that energy in your food. Our body is able to create energy from macronutrients found in food, such as carbohydrates, fat and protein. Livestrong explains the difference between each: “Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream. Fat is a major source of stored energy and is held as a reserve in the body until we need it. Protein is broken down slowly and is a longer-lasting form of energy.”
Even though all foods give you energy, some foods contain specific nutrients that allow for you to maintain focus and alertness, as well as boost your energy levels, more so than other foods. So if you are looking for that extra boost, try out a few of these foods.
- Sweet Potatoes – ample amounts of fiber and complex carbs, allowing your body to digest them at a slow pace, providing you with a steady supply of energy. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of manganese, which aids in the breakdown of nutrients to produce energy.
- Eggs – packed with protein and contain leucine, which can help stimulate the production of energy in the cells.
- Apples – their high content of natural sugars and fiber provides a slow and continuous release of energy.
- Quinoa – rich in carbs, fiber, protein, manganese and folate; all great sources for the creation of energy.
- Coffee – probably the most obvious choice, coffee is plentiful in caffeine, which increases the release of catecholamines (such as adrenaline) via the sympathetic nervous system.
Food as Medicine
As mentioned earlier, a big part of why we are stressed during COVID-19 is because we do not want to catch the virus, nor do we want our family and friends to fall ill. Besides keeping our distance from one another, we want to ensure we maintain a highly functional immune system and one of the best ways to do that is to monitor what we put inside our bodies. Food really can act as medicine (and it is so much more enjoyable)! For a much more detailed explanation, Healthy Kids Happy Kids is a highly recommended resource. But for now, here are just a few foods that can help support your immune system.
- Garlic – high in zinc and the article linked above explains, “Zinc and zinc-ionophores (compounds that increase zinc uptake into cells) have been found to inhibit SARS-CoV replication in vitro – that means that it has the potential to prevent the virus from multiplying and wreaking havoc in our bodies.”
- Lemons – rich in Vitamin C; a great preventative for pneumonia, one of the symptoms of the Coronavirus.
- Kale – contains Glutathione, an antioxidant that can help reduce respiratory disease symptoms.
- Yogurt – full of probiotics, which help support an overall healthy immune system.
- Seeds – chia, hemp and flax seeds all contain omega-3 essential fatty acids, which have numerous benefits, including: reduced inflammation, support of a healthy immune response and optimization of brain and cognitive function.
- Ginger – contains gingerol, known to exhibit a variety of biological activities including anticancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-oxidation.
Isn’t the power of food just incredible? To think that some people feel shame over eating is unfathomable. Now, that’s not to say that we can eat whatever and however much we’d like. We still want to avoid foods such a refined sugars, processed and fried foods, flour/wheat, unfermented soy, etc. These types of foods will often have the opposite effect and make us feel stressed, unhappy and lazy. They can also cause health issues such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, leading to heart issues. But to avoid eating any foods altogether, just because you’re not hungry, is insane. Take advantage of these amazing benefits and keep your belly full and satisfied! Enjoy every bite, staying mindful (as mentioned in the beginning) and feeling grateful to have access to an abundance of food that can improve your mood and well-being.