Anxiety and stress have been shown to cause a number of negative effects on the body, including hypertension, depression, and an increased risk of cancer. Stress can also contribute to weight gain due to its influence on certain hormones that help regulate processes related to blood sugar control and metabolism. In turn, this can lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
The ways that stress leads to weight gain are both physical and emotional. In addition to hormonal imbalances caused by stress, “stress eating” is a very real problem for many people. Several studies have shown that stress affects our food preferences, driving us to choose foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both. Refined carbohydrates and high-calorie foods such as ice cream, French fries, and baked goods are often the foods of choice when we’re feeling stressed out. These “comfort foods” seem to inhibit activity in areas of the brain that process stress, leading us to crave them even more, which further drives weight gain.
Too often, stress is just accepted as a given in today’s fast-paced, demanding world. About a quarter of Americans rate their stress level as an 8 or more on a scale of 10, according to Harvard Health Publishing. But there are steps you can take to reduce stress, which is important for managing your weight and reducing your risk of disease. And choosing the right foods in times of stress not only helps prevent weight gain, but can actually help combat stress as well.
- Blueberries are packed with antioxidants that can help improve your body’s reaction to stress. All berries are high in vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce levels of stress hormones.
- Many seeds, including pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and sunflower seeds, are high in magnesium, which helps counter many effects of stress, such as depression, irritability, and fatigue.
- Asparagus, spinach, and other greens are high in folate, which can help stabilize mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
- Avocados are another good source of folate, and are also high in glutathione, an important antioxidant that helps boost the immune system and fight cancer. Because stress weakens the immune system, it’s important to choose foods that help build it back up. Avocados are also a good source of monounsaturated fat, which helps provide a feeling of satiety and shut down the stress-eating impulse.
- Cashews are a good source of zinc, low levels of which have been linked to depression and anxiety. The body can’t store zinc, so it’s important to include it in your diet every day. Other good sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, grass-fed beef, oysters, chickpeas, and spinach.
- Pistachios can help lower blood pressure and heart rate.
- Salmon contains anti-inflammatory properties that can help counteract the negative effects of stress-related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
- Chocolate has an undeniable link to mood — studies have shown that both men and women eat more chocolate when they’re feeling depressed. Dark chocolate is packed with beneficial antioxidants and may help lower blood pressure as well as cortisol levels. When buying chocolate, choose a dark chocolate that’s low in added sugar.
- Walnuts are another good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and also help protect the brain and prevent memory loss.
- Green tea is also anti-inflammatory, and is high in antioxidants that can help you burn dangerous belly fat.
Some supplements may also help control hormones related to stress, such as our Sereniti, which is specifically designed to support normal mental functioning during stress and anxiety.
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