WHY DO WE TURN TO CARBS AND ALCOHOL IN TIMES OF STRESS?

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying your beer or chips, having it while you are stressed may be counterproductive to your health. Let’s get to know the basis behind these tendencies, and what to do instead.


BY: STACI GULBIN, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

We all do it.  

It was a rough day at work.  You got stuck in traffic. You and your significant other are not getting along.  Your kids are acting up. You feel like escaping to a private island to escape the stress that you can’t seem to get away from.  

Instead, you reach for the nearest pint of ice cream or throw back a few drinks to eat and drink “your troubles away.”  Unfortunately this feeling of satisfaction is only temporary, and in the long term this way of dealing with stress can lead to more food binges.  This in turn can cause weight gain that leads to more feelings of frustration, depression, and stress.  

So why do we have these tendencies in moments of stress?

Let’s take a closer look at two common foods that people turn to: carbohydrates and alcohol.

CARBS

Carbohydrates aid in the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is known as the “feel good” hormone.  It has been found to increase mood, produce a feeling of calm, and promote positive confidence…temporarily.  

This doesn’t mean that you have to eat ice cream and candy regularly to feel good though. While carbohydrates are an essential component of a balanced diet, it is the excess consumption of refined carbohydrates and sugar that can eventually wreak havoc on your body’s health.

ALCOHOL

Alcohol calms us because it suppresses the central nervous system, therefore initially making you feel relaxed and calm. Eventually, this calm leads to lack of control over thoughts, emotions, judgment, as well as speech and motor issues.  

Long-term use of alcohol to calm us down, even if only in small amounts each day (more than one standard drink per day for women or more than two standard drinks per day for men) or on the weekends, can increase the risk of developing health issues such as hypertension, stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, certain cancers, as well as digestive issues. No matter what way you look at it, alcohol is only beneficial to  health by lowering blood pressure slightly when consumed in moderation, such as in a glass of wine.  

Bottom line: Anything in excess is going to place unnecessary pressure on our bodies and will put our health in harm’s way.

So, what are some alternative ways to relax and unwind?

Eat healthy carbohydrates to get the benefit of serotonin.

Healthy sources of carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy, when balanced with a low-fat source of protein can help release serotonin too.  A balanced diet of these healthy carbohydrate sources can help us feel more energy, confidence, and can help stabilize our blood sugar levels, which can in turn, stabilize our appetite.

Drink a cup of green tea.

The antioxidants called catechins in green tea have been found to have the ability to suppress excitatory states in our central nervous system, thus helping with central nervous system healing.  This can produce a calming effect and reduce anxiety.

Take a walk or exercise.

Exercise aids in the release of “feel-good” endorphins in our body which can cause a feeling of euphoria and help in increasing energy levels and improving mood.  In addition, exercise can help improve sleep, and with better sleep patterns, comes a stronger ability to deal with the stresses of our day.

Spend time with those we care about.

Serotonin can also be released when we are with those we care about, especially when we receive affection such as hugs.  Spend time with those you care about to talk about what is bothering you, and it just might be the remedy you need to feel good inside so you can gain the motivation to take care of your health!

Adapted from the original article.
HEADER IMAGE: MICHAL KULESZA 

Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN is a Portland-based Registered Dietitian with a licensed private practice in Oregon and Maryland. Staci focuses on helping others be confident in the choices they make and to value themselves enough to make healthier decisions, even in moments where family and work life can be overwhelming. 

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