Stress is something everyone feels and no one can avoid. However, this feeling can be managed by eating certain foods to reduce stress and thinking about the future. People can reduce their stress levels by eating food to reduce stress. A study conducted by Britain called the Food and Mood Project examined the link between eating healthy food and reducing stress. Out of 200 people who were surveyed for the study, 88 percent of people said their mental health improved after they changed their diet. When a person experiences stress, their body reacts by telling their adrenal glands to release adrenalin and cortisol, which are two hormones that increase blood pressure, raise heart rate and mobilizes glucose in their brain. If a person continues to feel stress, the reaction stays on. Stress can speed up a person’s use of carbohydrates, fats, many vitamins and minerals and protein.
People should try to eat more carbohydrates to lower their stress levels. When people are stressed, their serotonin drops. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that is important for sleep, memory, and feeling relaxed and calm. Various studies have shown that people who are under stress have higher serotonin levels and lower hormone levels when they ate a diet high in carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates people can eat are legumes, whole grains, fruit and sweet potatoes. People should also eat breakfast and eat five times a day. When food is eaten in the morning, a person’s body gets glucose after it has fasted all night. Eating five times a day also helps a person’s body with glucose by keeping their body’s blood sugar levels or glucose stable so a person’s body is ready to fuel their muscles and brain.
Vitamin C can also help people manage stress by beating the rise in cortisol when they are stressed and also stop the harmful effects of high cortisol. People who have high blood levels of vitamin C in their system feel better physically and mentally when they are exposed to stressful situations compared to people who had low levels of vitamin C. Aside from eating to manage stress, stress induced eating can be managed by thinking about the future.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Meryl Gardner, an associate professor at the University of Delaware, found that there is more to stress eating than emotions and that by thinking about the future it can help people make better food choices. Gardner said she was interested in why a person chooses to eat junk food when they are in a bad mood and why someone chooses healthier food when they are in a good mood. Garner along with her co-authors found that most of the reason depends on a person’s view of time. She explains that at an evolution standpoint, it makes sense that when we are in a bad mood or feel uncomfortable, we know something is wrong and that we focus on what is close to us physically as well as what is close in time or the here and now.
The study was actually four studies that examined if people who were in a positive mood chose healthy food or junk food for the long-term well-being and health benefits. It also looked at if people who were in a negative mood chose junk food or healthy food for quick, mood management and hedonistic benefits. The first study examined the effects of a positive mood on health and junk foods by studying 211 individuals from parent teacher associations. The results of the first study indicated that people in a positive mood as compared to those in a neutral mood evaluated healthier foods than unhealthy foods
The second study looked at whether individuals in a neutral mood acted differently. That study involved 315 undergraduate students from a Midwestern university and found that people in a neutral mood enjoyed junk food more than healthy food. The third study wanted to eliminate that the findings were not caused by differences in thoughts about goal achievement. The study looked at if mood is not only affected by examining either nutritious or junk food but also affected by consumption. Raisins were used as a health food and M&Ms were used as a junk food. Garner explained that during the study the participant’s focus was altered when they thought of the present instead of the future as well as their mood and examined how much food they ate.
The final study examined the thoughts related to food choices and separated concrete (enjoyment/taste) from abstract (health/nutrition oriented) benefits. The results of all four studies showed that people can select junk foods and healthy foods based on their moods. It also shows that the time horizon is involved in these choices. People who are in a positive mood and make healthy food choices are thinking of the future healthy benefits. When people are in a negative mood they only focus on the taste and sensory experience of the food, not the benefits. Garner and her researchers also found that people in negative moods will choose food based on temporal constructs. That result supports the idea that when people focus on a topic other than the present they can reduce eating junk food.
People can manage their stress by taking a step back when they do certain things. For example, stress is managed by eating certain foods. They can also manage stress eating by thinking about the future before they eat a certain food. A study examined if people who think about the future make better food choices found that people can make food choices based on their moods. It also found that when people are in a good mood and make healthy food choices they are thinking of future health benefits. Aside from thinking, people can also reduce stress eating by exercising, which increases endorphins and drink water to stop dehydration.
By Jordan Bonte