Part 1: How stress affects our food choices
Stress in the workplace is often unavoidable, but why is it that when we feel stressed, we find ourselves reaching for a bar of chocolate or a big bowl of spaghetti?
Between 2014-2015, Safe work Australia reported that approximately 91% of workers’ compensation claims involving a mental health condition, were linked to work related stress or mental stress related to work pressure.
Studies have shown that many people eat to distract themselves from, or cope with stress, anxiety, sadness and daily hassles. As many as 35- 60% of people report eating more total calories when they experience stress and our food choices tend to switch from lower fat to higher fat foods. This means that not only are we overeating, we are selecting foods with little or no nutritional value.
When we feel stressed our ability to make decisions can become impaired and we are less able to regulate our emotions and resist temptations. We often seek high calorie “comfort foods” to do just that – comfort ourselves. These “comfort foods” such as chocolate, biscuits, pasta and ice-cream (just to name a few!) are most often high in fat and carbohydrates. They offer us immediate satisfaction, reducing our perceived stress levels and elevating our mood. These foods can cause a release of insulin, endorphins and serotonin - a chemical responsible for controlling our mood (which is why we tend to feel calmer and happier immediately after a big bowl of our favourite food).
Whilst these foods may help us to feel better in the short term, the effects wear off quickly and can often leave us feeling uncomfortable and lacking in energy.
What should we eat to improve stress?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘superfood’ to help reduce our stress levels, but research shows that a healthier balanced diet is associated with improved mood. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains in your diet. Unsaturated fats from foods such as; avocado, oily fish, unsalted nuts, seeds and olive oil are recommended. Protein should come from a variety of sources including meat and alternatives, legumes, fish and low-fat dairy products.
Top Tips for work
· Find ways to reduce stress that do not involve food – evidence supports exercise and mindfulness.
· Do not eat at your desk – take some time to refuel.
· Opt for complex carbs – select wholegrains and fibre rich foods such as high fibre/multigrain breads and cereals to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
· Boost your omega 3 fats and protein by adding a can of tuna or salmon or a boiled egg to your salad at work.
· Pack healthier snacks for your desk, such as fruit, vegetables sticks with low fat dip or 30g unsalted nuts.