Eat smart, stress less
Jill K. Fulk, R.D., L.D.
Registered and Licensed Dietitian
It's three o'clock in the afternoon and you're working hard. Not only is your mind flooded with the tasks you still have to complete at work, but you are overwhelmed with everything else you must do after work, such as picking up the kids, getting groceries, paying bills, cooking dinner, etc. The stress is on, and if you don't deal with it in a healthy way, it can lead to a breakdown in a behavior normally under control, such as diet. You might find yourself making poor food choices by eating on the go, or even skipping meals. But when you don't get a variety of nutrients in your diet, you will only end up trying to do more with less energy. Making your diet a priority can actually help you control your stress.
Here are some things you can do:
Make time for your meals. Sometimes busy schedules take precedence to meals. By skipping meals, you're only setting yourself up for more problems. You may allow yourself to become too hungry, causing you to overeat or make poor choices at your next meal. You will also become fatigued or experience low blood sugar. When you take the time to nourish yourself, the time you spend on work will be much more efficient because you will have more energy. You can save time by preparing several meals at a time in advance and freezing them in individual portions.
Create a plan. Make a menu of your meals and snacks according to your schedule each week, especially during times when you are busiest. When you have a plan, you're more likely to stick with it.
Eat away from distractions. Take a break from work and relax while you eat. Play some soothing music during your meal. It is important to enjoy your food.
Cut back on caffeine and sugar. Sometimes these are used to provide more energy. They can give you short-term energy, but they end up making you feel worse by causing your energy levels to rise and fall quickly.
Eat small, frequent meals. This regulates your blood sugar, and keeps your energy level up and your metabolism going. Your body will feel much better when you take in small amounts every 3-4 hours.
Increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy in your diet. It's easy to include these foods as snacks. Pack and stash snacks at work or at the gym. Fresh fruit, carrot sticks, whole-wheat crackers and cheese and low-fat yogurt are good choices. Enjoy newer products like Dannon Light 'n Fit Smoothies, Kashi cereals, or whole-wheat flatbread or pita bread spread with hummus. Make your own snack mix with low fat granola, dried cranberries, raisins, almonds, soy nuts and Multi-Grain Chex cereal.
Exercise. Exercise is a great stress reliever. It improves your sleep quality, calms the nerves, and normalizes chemicals in your body to restore balance.
It is normal to feel stress in response to challenging circumstances. You can simplify your eating schedule to save time, but don't give up on good nutrition that will help you get through those difficult times.