We’ve all been there, it’s been a tough day so you reach for a sweet treat to give you a lift. Or you get home and just want to eat and drink your body weight in pasta and wine. Then you beat yourself up for hours about how weak-willed you are and how you’ve failed to be healthy so you might as well throw it all out the window, finish the ice cream in the freezer and start again tomorrow. Sound familiar?

This scenario is not uncommon but it’s also not all down to your will power. There is in fact a complicated hormone cycle going on and often it’s triggered by stress and perpetuated by sugar.

Let me explain…

When our body perceives something as stressful it responds by pushing us into ‘fight-or-flight’ mode. This is the same response our body had when we were hunter-gatherers and stress was a real-life or death situation. The stresses we face today may not be the same, but our body’s response is and it’s designed to help us fight or run away from a threat to our lives.

Under stress, you release adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones cause; your heart to pump harder, your blood vessels to dilate and the release of glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. It’s this response which makes us feel more alert and more energetic. But once the stress passes, the glucose which hasn’t been used is put back into stores, usually as fat. This causes your blood sugar levels to drop and makes you feel tired. Your body then craves a ‘quick fix’ from sugar or simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice etc.). Often after a stressful situation, our willpower is diminished or we often think we ‘deserve’ a treat. But while this will make you feel better in the short term, in the long term it won’t help you and could lead to energy imbalances, brain fog, weight gain and even type 2 diabetes and will just increase the stress on your body.

So what foods should you be eating in response to stress?

  • Protein-rich snacks like nuts and seeds, whole yoghurt, boiled eggs, hummus and crudités or dates filled with nut butter will help keep your blood sugars balanced and help the body switch off its stress response.
  • Complex carbohydrates like whole grain rice and oats and eat whole fruits and vegetables contain more fibre to slow the release of the glucose they contain again prevent blood sugar highs and lows.
  • Eat more green leafy vegetables which are rich in magnesium and B-vitamins – key nutrients which become depleted when we’re stressed.

Other things to remember in times of stress

  • If you can, step away from a stressful situation and take a walk or just take a few deep breaths. Both will help lower your cortisol levels and switch off the stress response and hopefully prevent any subsequent sugar cravings.
  • If you do reach for sugary foods, accept it was what your body needed and don’t beat yourself up or throw the whole healthy eating plan out the window. Get back on track with a more nourishing choice at the next meal or snack.

If you’d like help to address your sugar cravings or help you deal better with stress why not book a nutrition consultation with me. Contact me to book a free chat to find out more about how I could help you.


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