Food & Stress Relationship and Gender Differences


Stress is a common part of life, as everyone deals with it from time to time. It refers to a state of mental or emotional strain. People undergo various forms of stress from their daily encounters at home, in the workplace, or within the social circle. Studies have established that stress has negative effects on one’s health if it is not managed in an effective manner (Magee & Watts, 2012). This phenomenon is necessitated by the anxiety associated with stress, which can easily lead someone to make unhealthy choices such as the kind or amount of food eaten. According to psychologists, stress has a huge impact on the nutrition of an affected individual.

For example, someone who has a tight deadline to meet at work is likely to eat sugary food and drink a lot of caffeine to get more energy and vigor because he or she will have to work for long hours. However, people are ignorant of the fact that poor nutrition is one of the factors that contribute to stress (Udonwa, Iyam, & Inah, 2015). Stress often leaves one emotionally drained; thus, the reason people tend to overeat because of the need to restore their energy levels. In other instances, stress can shut down one’s appetite to the extent of someone going for days without eating anything. Stress threatens the homeostatic stability of the body, which in turn induces unhealthy eating habits due to increased metabolism and protein loss.

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Discussion

Research has established that there are certain unhealthy habits that people undergoing stressful moments often engage to the detriment of their nutrition (Magee & Watts, 2012). Some of the common stress-induced habits include drinking a lot of coffee, eating the wrong foods, skipping meals, forgetting to drink water, mindless munching, increased preference for fast food, and crash diets. Stress makes the body release cortisol, an adrenal-cortex hormone that is active in carbohydrate and protein metabolism (Udonwa et al., 2015). It makes someone with stress crave foods with a lot of fat, salt, and sugar.

This explains the high preference for junk foods such as potato chips, ice cream, pizza, and hamburgers, among others. Skipping meals is a notable habit of people undergoing stressful moments. For example, when someone has several things to do within a short period, eating a proper meal is not considered a priority. Such people find themselves skipping crucial meals such as breakfast, lunch, or supper simply because they cannot find time out of their tight schedule (Adeniyi, 2015). Mindless munching refers to a situation where the emotions of someone experiencing a stressful time lead one to eat, not because of hunger but as a way of relieving the tension. According to nutritionists, water is very important to the human body, and forgetting to drink it leads to serious problems (Magee & Watts, 2012).

Stress often makes people forget to taking water, thus affecting their nutrition in a negative way. Due to the weight that people gain from overeating during periods of stress, crash diets are a common feature among people that have been affected. This involves people choosing to eat less food or unbalanced diets in order to lose weight. Nutritionists argue that such unhealthy choices can lead to a compromised nutritional balance in the body, which makes one experience serious health complications (Lamprecht, 2014).

Gender Difference in Coping with Stress

According to research, men and women respond differently to stress with regard to their eating habits (Lamprecht, 2014). Psychologists argue that women are more likely to overeat when under stress, while men are likely to eat less under similar circumstances because they often turn to smoking or drinking alcohol. This explains the reason behind the prevalence of obesity among women compared to men. Reports indicate that the vulnerability of women to overeat because of stress often increases in situations where they are dealing with multiple stressors (Watts, 2015). Nutritionists argue that the metabolism of the body slows a lot if someone eats fatty food a day after experiencing a stressful moment.

This often leads to someone gaining weight very quickly. However, various studies conducted to understand the way stress affects the nutrition of both men and women give contrasting results. Some studies report that men are more likely to overeat because of stress compared to women and vice versa. Experts argue that the eating habits of an individual experiencing stress are highly dependent on the nature of the stressor (Udonwa et al., 2015). For example, both men and women often respond differently to stress related to their work and that emanating from family issues. In addition, overweight people tend to exhibit adverse effects on their nutrition when they experience stress.

The reason for this is the fact that overweight people have high levels of insulin, which regulates the storage of glycogen in the liver (Watts, 2015). In addition, insulin accelerates the oxidation of sugar in cells. Therefore, overweight people experiencing stress often have higher cravings for foods with a lot of sugar and fats compared to those with moderate body weight. Poor eating habits caused by stress often lead to health complications. According to nutritionists, poor nutrition affects the immunity of an individual experiencing stress, thus increasing his or her susceptibility to various illnesses (Lamprecht, 2014). In addition, poor health also heightens the stress levels whenever someone is faced with tight deadlines to meet or a troubled relationship.

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Managing Stress Through Diet

One of the most important elements with regard to managing stress through diet is a good comprehension of the way one’s body works and reacts to different situations. According to nutritionists, the human body often undergoes a period of recovery after someone has experienced a stressful period (Adeniyi, 2015). This period is characterized by a sudden increase in appetite and unusual cravings. This period can be managed effectively without any negative effects if someone understands his or her dietary needs. Research has established that most people struggle to lose weight because they do not manage stress the right way in terms of the food they eat (Magee & Watts, 2012).

Often, chronic stress results in most people storing a lot of fat around their stomach area because they find themselves trapped in poor eating habits. However, nutritionists have developed a number of strategies that people can apply to manage their stress without compromising their nutrition. These strategies are aimed towards maintaining the level of metabolism in the body and fighting the urge to eat foods that are high in fat (Dunn, 2012).

When undergoing a stressful period, it is important and necessary to eat little food at regular intervals (Udonwa et al., 2015). Nutritionists argue that this strategy helps in stabilizing the level of metabolism throughout the day. It is always important to take breakfast regardless of whether one feels hungry or not. Lack of time or fear of being late should not be an excuse for someone to skip the first meal of the day. According to experts, eating breakfast plays a pivotal role with regard to keeping the blood sugar at the required level (Magee & Watts, 2012). Stabilizing the blood sugar level reduces stress. Incorporating fruits in one’s breakfast is highly recommended.

Nutritionists argue that one should make sure that he or she eats foods rich in magnesium, as well as Vitamins B and C. Vitamin B is essential because it provides the body with the necessary energy required to recover from a stressful period. This element can be found in green vegetables, avocados, fish, dairy products, nuts, and bananas (Adeniyi, 2015). Vitamin C is essential in the production of stress hormones within the body. It is contained in tomatoes, oranges, pepper, and green vegetables. Magnesium helps the body in relaxing muscles and managing anxiety levels. Nutritionists recommend people to eat a lot of peanuts, whole grains, brown rice, and beans in order to increase the level of magnesium in the body.

Stress can also be managed effectively by reducing the intake of caffeine, alcohol, sugar, salt, and nicotine. Caffeine is a stimulant mostly found in coffee, tea, and chocolate. Research has shown that consumption of caffeine in high quantities affects the ability of the body to deal with the effects of stress (Lawrence, 2012). Nutritionists recommend people that are addicted to caffeine to improve the ability of their bodies to deal with stress by drinking herbal tea or green tea, which are rich in antioxidants.

Caffeine stays in the body for long hours; thus, it important to avoid taking it after lunch or supper. The reason for this is the fact that a high concentration of caffeine in the body alters sleeping patterns, which is another major source of stress (Udonwa et al., 2015). Someone can opt to be taking more water or fruit juice as a way of reducing their caffeine intake. High levels of alcohol, sugar, salt, and nicotine in the body also reduce the ability of the body to deal with stress. Health experts argue that people should change the notion that smoking cigarettes helps to reduce stress because it only provides instant and short-term gratification (Lawrence, 2012).

However, the more one continues to indulge in the habit, the greater stress the body experiences. Nutritionists argue that it is important to take good care of the body by increasing the intake of nutrients that bust stress within the body, as well as reducing the intake of substances that induce stress on the body.

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Good nutrition can be integrated with other strategies to help manage stress. For example, physical exercise is one of the techniques that experts recommend people apply in order to manage stress in an effective manner. Exercise requires someone to have good eating habits because the body requires a lot of energy. It is an effective way of weight loss for people who are prone to overeating when they experience stressful periods.

Exercises such as swimming, yoga, aerobics, meditation, tai chi, and playing ball games are effective in managing stress (Adeniyi, 2015). According to nutritionists, it is important to observe one’s diet for exercise purposes because it is not healthy to strain the body without giving it the necessary nutrients. Poor diet coupled with vigorous and regular exercise can lead one to suffer from stress. Getting enough sleep is also an effective technique for managing stress that requires one to adopt good dietary habits. Research has established that having a regular sleeping pattern that has minimal interruptions is one of the sure ways of living without stressful moments (Magee & Watts, 2012).

Adequate sleep allows the body to rest and recover from a day’s activities. However, people who love taking coffee during the day and at night might often have irregular sleeping patterns. This, in turn, affects their ability to work effectively during the day because of inadequate rest.

People can also manage stress through nutrition by avoiding the choice of comfort with regard to the food someone eats (Watts, 2015). Junk food is often referred to as comfort food because it is accessible, as well as easy, and quick to prepare. However, people ignore the fact that these kinds of foods have a lot of fat and sugar that is not good for the body. According to dieticians, it is important for people to understand the need to find good value in the food one eats (Udonwa et al., 2015).

Therefore, for one to recognize the importance of making healthier diet choices, managing stress should be a top priority. Observing good nutrition habits is one of the ways people take care of themselves. A study conducted to establish different perceptions of stress established that people often consider eating as one of the easiest ways of navigating through the misfortune of emotional strain (Lawrence, 2012). Psychologists argue that people who are enduring stress view food as a source of power and control over their anxiety, which in turn gives one the satisfaction that all shall be well.

Conclusion

In the contemporary world, stress ranks as one of the common and most disregarded health challenges facing people across the globe. Experts argue that stress increases the susceptibility of an individual to an array of health conditions if it is not managed effectively. Some of the common health conditions associated with stress include diabetes, heart failure, and obesity. Obesity is a stress-induced condition that is brought about by poor nutrition.

People often overeat when they undergo a stressful period, thus leading to an increase in body weight, appetite, as well as cravings for foods with a lot of fat and sugar. Stress affects the ability of an individual to maintain a healthy eating pattern because often, one skips important meals or opts to take junk food because it is easily accessible. Eating a balanced diet plays a crucial role in managing stress.

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Nutritionists recommend people avoid skipping meals, eating a lot of food when stressed, always drink enough water, as well as reduce the intake of stress-inducing elements such as caffeine and alcohol. It is important to note that meeting deadlines and maintaining relationships should not precede the need to keep one’s body in good condition. Therefore, the fear of being late in the morning or the need to meet a tight deadline should not be an excuse for someone to eat junk food or fail to eat anything at all.

References

Adeniyi, P.O. (2015). Stress, a major determinant of nutritional and health status. American Journal of Public Health Research, 3(1), 15-20.

Dunn, C. (2012). Nutrition decisions: Eat smart, move more. New York, NY: Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Lamprecht, M. (2014). Antioxidants in sports nutrition. New York, NY: CRC Press.

Lawrence, G. (2012). Stress relief foods and recipes. Massachusetts, MA: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Magee, A., & Watts, C. (2012). The de-stress diet: Relax into your ideal weight and stay there forever. New York, NY: Hay House.

Udonwa, R.E., Iyam, M.A., & Inah, G.M. (2015). Impact of stress on nutrition and productivity (A study of Southern Cross River State, Nigeria). International Journal of Nursing, Midwife and Health-Related Cases, 1(2), 41-53.

Watts, C. (2015). The de-stress effect: Rebalance your body’s systems for vibrant health and happiness. San Francisco, CA: Hay House Inc.

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