All of us get stressed at one point or another. It’s simply another fact of life. Unfortunately, stress also has various harmful effects on our health, which tend to become exacerbated when we try to deal with it in self-destructive ways. One such way is through eating often unhealthy things and justifying it with a quick, “But I deserve it.” Though this is bad for anyone, a new study finds that a combination of the two can lead women to gain 11 pounds per year. Surely, there are better ways to eat when stressed.
From arguments with their husbands to problems with their kids, or work-related issues, it really didn’t matter what kind of stress the participants in the study were going through. When they were given a fatty, but oh-so-satisfying meal (eggs, turkey sausage, and biscuits and gravy) the day after being stressed, they burned 104 fewer calories over the next seven hours than their non-stressed counterparts. But perhaps more importantly, their insulin levels rose, which subsequently contributed to not only the storage of fat but also the inability of larger fat molecules to turn into smaller, ready-to-burn molecules.
“This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain,” said Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University, in a press release. “We know from other data that we’re more likely to eat the wrong foods when we’re stressed, and our data say that when we eat the wrong foods, weight gain becomes more likely because we are burning fewer calories.”
The study involved 58 middle-aged women who visited the university’s Clinical Research Center on two separate occasions. The day before they appeared for the study, they were each given three meals and told to go about their day as planned. They were also told to fast for 12 hours before coming in for the meal, which contained 930 calories and 60 grams of fat (about the same as a fast food double cheeseburger and fries). Before they ate, the researchers questioned them on depressive symptoms, physical activity, and any stressful events they might have experienced the day before. Their metabolic speed was also measured.
After they ate, their metabolic rate was measured for 20 minutes of every hour over the next seven hours using equipment that measured oxygen and carbon dioxide while it entered and left their body — this way, they could see how much energy their bodies needed to metabolize the food. Interestingly, the type of oil they used didn’t matter, even if it was one that’s relatively healthier (sunflower oil), as any participants who reported being stressed experienced a slower metabolism. For people who had higher levels of depression, the effects worsened.
“We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy rather than going to a very convenient, but high-fat choice,” said Martha Belury, a professor of human nutrition at the university, in the release.
There really are so many foods that are healthier to eat, while being just as satisfying. What’s even better is that they’ll help to counteract the effects of stress. Here are five of them:
Delicious in guacamole or in a sandwich, the fruit is high in glutathione, which can prevent the intestines from absorbing fats responsible for oxidative damage. On top of that, it also contains lots of B vitamins like folate, which help with preventing heart disease and stroke.
Whether they’re strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, among the many others, all of them contain lots of vitamin C, which has been shown to reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress.
Another food with high concentrations of vitamin B. It also contains lots of vitamin E, which boosts immune function. Only a quarter cup a day keeps the stress at bay.
Not only is it rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it also contains various powerful antioxidants like astaxanthin and selenium, which can help prevent oxidative stress and cellular damage.
Vitamin C, again, helps prevent stress from going through the roof.
Source: Kielcolt-Glaser J, Belury M, Malarkey W, et al. Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity. Biological Psychiatry. 2014.