Diet and Stress: Tips and Tricks

Diet and Stress: Tips and Tricks


The choice of title is deliberately provocative, in the sense that no diet is involved in the battle "on the front line" of nervous stress.

Stress has deeper origins, which may require even major lifestyle changes; sometimes, it is a good idea to involve also professionals of psychological analysis and therapy, or even - under specialist medical prescription - to resort to the use of specific drugs (for example anxiolytics).

This does not mean that an excessive and chronic level of mental stress can negatively affect the balance of hormone secretion. In this case, we do not speak of endocrine pathologies, but of paraphysiological alterations - usually transitory or in any case solvable, but not to be underestimated.

It would be different if we consider oxidative stress; in this case, the nutritional content of the diet, especially in natural antioxidants and enzymatic precursors, would be the most relevant factor to take into account. Dietary regimes with this goal are generally referred to as anti-aging diets.

Basic Stress

Why are we all stressed out?

Analyzing the causes and effects of chronic stress, we can see how certain mood disorders - sometimes symptoms but often real neuroses - affect more and more people, more and more times in life and, alas, at an increasingly precocious age. These neuroses, also supported by organic factors - such as the abuse of psychotropic substances - have thus become a pandemic.

Summarizing what some anthropologists have reported, this would be mainly due to the fact that the human being is unable to mature psychologically as much as on an intellectual level - this is true both at an evolutionary level and in the growth of the individual. This circumstance is much more serious than it appears.

Being animals, the satisfaction of basic needs is the basis of our survival. For almost all living creatures, they limit themselves to feeding and reproducing. The human is decidedly more complex, because among its needs in your country there are also abstract elements, such as emotions and feelings - which are more intense in relationships with their fellow men. It is therefore deducible that, if these primary needs are not met, our brain reacts to the "gravity of the situation" by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters typical of stress - hence the depressive, anxious symptoms, etc.

For awareness and logic, the attempt to reduce basic stress should therefore start from improving communication and psycho-emotional maturation; it would be impossible to improve relations with the community apart from these concepts, and this is the crux of the matter.

Humanity has not made itself so thanks to the ability to invent, but to communicate, which requires emotional intelligence or empathy - a psychological ability - and mastery of language. Our current involution starts from the fact that we continue to "invent" in an attempt to fill psychological and communication gaps, "reducing the symptom without curing the cause".

The confirmation comes from the fact that the human is the only gregarious animal that tends to physically detach itself from the community, but integrating other species into its family unit (dogs, cats, etc.). If this were the right direction, the establishment of virtual relationships between people would not be justified, nor would the appearance of neuroses in domestic animals be justified.

In summary from this simplistic and brief psycho-social analysis, we can conclude that the basal level of stress of Western man is so high that it is unlikely that someone has not suffered from it in the past, will not suffer from it or will not suffer from it in the future.

Stress and cortisol

Correlation between stress and cortisol

The theme treated in this article is therefore well suited to modern man, chronically afflicted by psychological stress. In fact, we will talk about how to manage a general food program recommended for a person prone to hyperadrenalism or hypercorticalism, that is, who produces excessive amounts of cortisol due to chronic stress. In practice, the anti-stress diet has two purposes: to interfere with the hormonal secretion of potentially harmful mediators (if in excess, such as cortisol), to stop the unwanted effects it causes.

Many adults, who are unaware of their condition, may suffer from excessive cortisol secretion. This is because in recent decades there has been an exponential increase in the load of stress. In addition to the above, the economic crisis, reduced labor supply, increased taxes and prices have created a much higher burden than our stress management capacity.

Among the problems associated with the chronic stress of Western man (in addition to insomnia, nervous exhaustion, bipolar disorder / mood swings, etc.) there is the predisposition to weight gain, resulting in overweight or obesity and complications including in the most serious forms metabolic syndrome appears.

The most obvious advice, in case of chronic stress and consequent hyperadrenalism, is to change your living conditions (work, family situation and removing the various stressors, at least the main ones) where possible. But since in 90% of cases this is clearly not feasible, here we go to the doctor - or, in the worst case scenario, we vent into smoking, alcohol abuse etc.

Below we will therefore talk about how to manage nutrition to avoid stress negatively affecting weight, body composition and metabolic efficiency.

Carbohydrates and Cortisol

Eat carbohydrates in the right quantities

We have said that the stress hormone is, almost par excellence, cortisol - even if it is not the only one, let's mention for example prolactin. Among the various metabolic effects of this chemical mediator we recognize a hyperglycemic, glycogenolytic influence, therefore opposite to insulin, similar or complementary to glucagon and catecholamines.

Based on circadian rhythms, cortisol is highest in the morning and then gradually decreases by the afternoon; this is true regardless of external and dietary influences. In a stressed subject, the level will be even higher than the physiological one, with a consequent tendency to rise in blood sugar already in the fasting state and difficulty in muscle growth or recovery (if the subject plays sports). Furthermore, always in the context of body composition, it should be specified that two diametrically opposed actions on adipose tissue are attributed to cortisol, to which it is still difficult to attribute a logic: increase in lipolysis and increase in liposynthesis. In practice, in certain circumstances it facilitates the mobilization of fats and in others it optimizes the accumulation of fat. What is certain, however, is that the adipose accumulation in conditions of elevated cortisol is concentrated in the abdominal area, resulting in an android conformation.

But be careful, the fluctuations in blood sugar due to stress (therefore to cortisolemia) should not be interpreted as a pathological form - for example, insulin resistance or glucose intolerance - but as possible slight glycemic changes which in the long term can have a significant impact.

A person with hyperglycemia who eats a high-carbohydrate breakfast may be making a mistake by raising their blood sugar even further. However this is not said. Since cortisol and insulin are essentially antagonists - the former is hyperglycemic and is secreted when blood glucose is low, while the latter is hypoglycemic and is released when blood glucose rises after meals - a food stimulus could trigger insulin release, block release of cortisol and restore homeostasis.

What to do

Choosing the right breakfast

So, how to behave? The recommended choice would be to proceed reasonably by trial and error. Perceiving the post-prandial sensation of various types of breakfast by changing the glycemic load. Then, since home blood cortisol detection is impossible, while blood glucose can be measured easily - albeit with relative accuracy - using an instrument called a blood glucose meter, it might be a good idea to start checking fasting plasma glucose.

Protein and muscle mass

Cortisol, glucagon and catecholamines, if on the one hand they can cannibalize the lean mass, on the other hand they also break down the reserves of fat and carbohydrates. Therefore, if we pay attention to maintaining the nitrogen balance and to adequately stimulate insulin with the right amount of calories at a time - especially from carbohydrates - this picture could play in favor of weight loss.

To maintain the nitrogen balance, it is necessary to guarantee the correct intake of proteins, possibly with a high biological value, and to take care to carry out weightlifting workouts dedicated to hypertrophy, which oblige the body to preserve muscle mass - considered indispensable at this point, not a simple aesthetic goal. Lean mass is in fact also important to keep metabolism high, the production of testosterone, endorphins and to reduce the chances of gaining weight.

Other precautions

If the person is overstressed, they should avoid excessive calorie restrictions.

Better to reduce the intake of nerves such as coffee, tea and theobromine, which would aggravate the discomfort.

Eliminate alcohol and cigarette smoking - or other abuses that generate chemical dependence.

It is advisable to remember to drink, as in the case of high stress sometimes we tend to ignore the physiological stimuli.

While waiting for an improvement in lifestyle, the person will be able to take advantage of his state to lose weight while maintaining lean mass. That is, he will be able to reverse the course by 180 °, passing from a subject who gains copious weight on the stomach and viscera, to a subject who maintains health and physical shape.

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