How Stress Depletes and How to Use Food to Build Yourself Up

How Stress Depletes 

and How to Use Food to Build Yourself Up

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Being an entrepreneur comes with a load of stress.  It is exciting to be starting something of your own and be free from having a boss or the demands of a corporation.  But let’s face it; you are suddenly playing every role in the company: marketing, managing, public relations, book-keeping, etc., and that is a lot to juggle.  Keeping your stress levels in check is critical, and to do that you need to focus on three main things: diet, exercise and relaxation.

Stress comes in many forms. The physical stress from sitting at the computer, mental stress from trying to get it all done and then emotional stress worrying if you are doing it right or if the clients will come in.  In order for your body to properly function, it needs adequate nutrients, sunlight, rest, water, and joy.  Without this formula, dis-ease is likely to form. When you are preoccupied with work, relationships, a packed schedule or financial strain, stress can take over all aspects of your life; leading to emotional eating, restless sleep, depression and dehydration. Fatigue is usually the first sign that imbalance is setting in, and if ignored, will move to aches and pains or gastrointestinal distress.  These are signs from your body that something needs to change before a diagnosis is given and chronic illness develops.

Photo Courtesy of American Psychological Association

Often when stressed, we feel like we lack control. There is not enough time, resources or energy, and we feel we are walking around in a state of deficiency. Ironically, our bodies are dealing with deficiency, because in the face of stress our bodies become depleted of the vital micronutrients that keep our energy strong and the mind sharp.  For instance, stress depletes your body of many vital vitamins and minerals like B Vitamins, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. These nutrients are released from the body to fight inflammation and neutralize free radicals, which are created in response to stress, poor diet, pathogens, etc.  Without these valuable vitamins, your immune system becomes weak and you are unable to fight off viruses and other pathogens. 

 Stress also exhausts minerals like magnesium. As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body, magnesium is necessary for enzyme creation, calcium uptake and anxiety control.  Studies have shown that events like heart attacks and high blood pressure are often accompanied by magnesium deficiency.  When the body is in a state of stress, magnesium is released to help cope.

So what can you do to alleviate stress?  Focusing on how to protect and restore these vital nutrients is key.  It is critical to support yourself with a healthy diet, get adequate rest, and to engage in meditation, exercise, or anything that relaxes your body and brings it back to a peaceful state, sparing further mineral depletion.  Food, in its ability to heal, support and build can combat stress by transferring the power or control back to you. Each meal, you have a choice to eat foods that can quell the stress process or stir it up.  The best way to ensure adequate nutrients is through a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, nuts and seeds. Fruits like oranges, kiwi and cantaloupe are high in Vitamin C, which is also found in vegetables such as cabbage, leafy greens, broccoli and peppers. These vegetables also contain Vitamins A, E, and K, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and more. Healthy fats and lean proteins help to balance your blood sugar, which can go haywire under stress. They also provide a steady flow of energy throughout the day, and can help create sharpness or clarity of mind.  

When using food to calm stress, we not only have to make nutrient-dense choices, but may also need to limit certain foods as well.  For instance, the Standard American Diet (rich in heavy meats, processed foods and sugar) is a nutrient-poor way of eating which, along with our fast-paced, high-demand culture, is a recipe for depletion, fatigue and illness.

Often when stressed, sugar and caffeine help see us through.  However, despite the temporary energy lift, sugar and caffeine actually contribute to anxiety and add more stress to your body, putting you at risk for adrenal fatigue and blood sugar discrepancies.  By making changes to your plate each day, and filling it with vibrant, energy-giving foods, you can choose to fight inflammation, curb anxiety and fuel your body to face life’s ongoing demands.  

Nature has perfectly created food to fit your needs and keep your body in optimal health. Eating at least 5-7 servings of fresh produce per day will provide what you need and it is easier than you think to achieve that goal. At every meal, ask yourself, “Can I add a veggie or fruit to this?” The answer is likely to be a resounding YES!  For instance, top off your oatmeal with berries and ground flax seed; snack on an apple or banana mid-morning.  For lunch, choose vegetable soups, salad or vegetable stir-fry.  Your midday snack can be vegetable sticks with guacamole or an apple with almond butter.  Dinner will include protein, cooked vegetables and a salad.  If you are craving something sweet at the end of the day, reach for fresh mango or a bowl of berries.  By making these simple substitutions or additions, you will also be adding in fiber, helping to regulate your digestive system, which is often thrown off in stressful situations.  

Eating to beat stress is easy and manageable. However, if you find it challenging at first, then a whole-food based supplement may be a good idea while you work on creating more balance in your life. A supplement can help immensely and give you some time to develop new habits. If you are taking any medications, consult with your doctor before adding in supplements. Vitamin C and magnesium are generally safe and do not interfere, but you should always discuss any changes you make with your doctor.

The bottom line is you have control over your health.  Choose to support your body with colorful fruits and vegetables because these foods offer the nutrients needed to combat stress and keep you healthy. As entrepreneurs, we are in this game to help people or change the world.  Our mission can only be accomplished when we feel good.  When you give your body what it needs, it will work endlessly to support you. When all else seems out of control, remember that the power to eat well is in your hands – and with that power, you can accomplish amazing things.

Caryn O'Sullivan

Caryn O’Sullivan is a mom, and an entrepreneur in the health coaching field. As a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Food Therapist and founder of Appetites for Life, she supports women who struggle with low energy, weight management, cravings and body image with a 5–step program that teaches how to tune-into your body, tune-up your health, and tap into the power of food.

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