April is National Stress Awareness month, and with stats abounding over ever increasing levels of stress – up to 83 percent of us – it’s time to pay more than lip-service to what’s got our goats.
We’ve all heard the grim statistics of the health effects of stress. According to the APA, “Americans continue to recognize the impact of stress – 66 percent believe their stress has a moderate, strong or very strong impact on their physical health, and 63 percent believe the same for their mental health.” But what can we do to self-arrest before we hit cardiac arrest?
Besides the obvious stress reducers like taking time to smell the roses, exercising, removing toxic situations and meditating, there is a powerful tool many of us don’t typically consider when we aim to chill out. Our diet.
But imagine this: What we choose – or don’t choose – to feed ourselves not only fuels our physical bodies but also greatly affects our mind. And in fact, what I’ve witnessed through working with thousands of clients over the years is that food is one of the most crucial foundations. In fact, of all the areas our clients track – sleep, weight, allergies, skin, pain, digestion and more – food is the one that’s grown to be my very favorite and early on was also the most surprising. By merely personalizing their diets, the majority of our clients reduced their stress and anxiety levels dramatically.
Here are some great ways to combat the daily toll of stress and anxiety with the power of food:
1. Start with the basics. There’s no rocket science to this one but eating whole, non-processed foods is key. No fancy dietary footwork can overpower the junk. Sugars, breads, cakes, cookies, chemical laden snacks and anything else calling your name in the middle of an afternoon slump is crazy making. Literally. When we nourish our bodies with vegetables, non-factory farmed animal proteins, beans, seeds and whole grains our body and mind receives nutrients it needs to stabilize.
2. Keep a health bevy of protein snacks nearby. Hankerings get the best of us and create a h’angry, unhappy self. H’angry selves make poor choices, creating a vicious cycle, which includes destabilized blood sugar. Protein creates blood-sugar stability. Easy, portable snacks such as nuts, seeds and hummus restore sanity. Pay attention to the difference between a healthy protein snack versus merely gnoshing on a piece of fruit or something sweet. Ask yourself: How are my energy levels and mood responding in the hours following each?
3. Eliminate Caffeine. If stress and anxiety seem to be a constant in your life, one of the first items to omit is caffeine. Some are very sensitive to caffeine, even small amounts can be enough to have profound impact on our mood. The best way to know for sure is to give it a whirl and see if you notice any changes. Give yourself a week to go through caffeine withdrawal before making any assessments. Keep a journal of your stress levels and after a week sans caffeine, see if you notice any differences. This level of inquisitiveness is key to the march toward a personalized diet and a better understanding of how different foods affect various areas of your life. Once you’re able to determine what’s working and what isn’t, it then becomes easier to be the best version of yourself.
4. Uncover inflammatory foods. This one’s a biggie. Many people have unrecognized food intolerances, which lead to inflammation in the body – the root of much disease but also many symptoms, including fatigue, sleep issues and brain clarity. Whether the inflammatory food is citrus, gluten or tomatoes, I’ve seen an undeniable correlation with personal trigger foods and our anxiety and stress levels. Discovering our personal inflammatory foods next levels our lives.
The correlation between food and mood, particularly where our stress levels are concerned, is a relationship worth examining. When we move away from traditional diets and embrace our bodies’ preferences and aversions, we awaken to the power food holds. As we begin to identify what our best self feels like, this will become the standard of care and a topic of dinner fare.
Kim Love is the founder of LoveLife Program, a food discovery system that helps individuals identify the impact food has on their body and mind. Aimed at helping people live at peak performance, LoveLife has helped thousands uncover what their bodies uniquely need to live life well.