How Your Diet Is Stressing You Out

If you use stress as an excuse for snacking on candy or eating fast food instead of a real meal, it’s time to reconsider.

A convenient snack might seem like an easy way to take one more stressful decision off your plate. But if the foods you opt for are sugary or loaded with refined carbohydrates, they might actually make you more stressed out — both in the short term and the long term.

“When we feel stressed we seek foods that are going to comfort us immediately, but often times those foods lead to surges and crashes in hormones and blood sugar that increase our susceptibility to new stresses,” David Ludwig, a professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard University and a researcher at Boston Children’s Hospital, told NPR.

The reason for this can be explained by the glycemic index, which measures how quickly sugars from food are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Ludwig was the lead author on a study published in the journal Pediatrics that looked at the effects of foods that were high on the glycemic index — like sugars and highly-refined carbs. The researchers gave a group of 12 obese teenage boys three different meals, all with equal caloric content. One, eggs, was very low on the glycemic index. A second, high-fibre, steel-cut oats, was in the middle. A third meal was one of those easy convenient food options, and one that some people might even think of as healthy: instant oatmeal.

As expected, the higher the foods were on the glycemic index, the more quickly the boys’ blood sugar levels spiked and then crashed. The lower the food was on the index, the more it steadily provided energy over time, without any rapid rise or fall in blood sugar.

Along with the blood sugar crash came rising levels of stress hormones like adrenaline.

Additionally, the boys ate more calories again sooner after the high glycemic meal, meaning they consumed more food overall — making weight gain and associated health issues more likely.

This fits in with other research that shows that consuming high glycemic foods is more likely to lead to weight gain and health issues in the long term.

To make matters worse, health issues are some of the leading causes of stress for Americans. According to a recent poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and NPR, Americans with health issues are more likely to experience a great deal of stress than anyone else.

Weight-related health issues like diabetes are also associated with high stress levels.

So it’s time to stop using stress as an excuse for emotional eating. Even if a cookie or a doughnut seems comforting, the quick sugar rush and subsequent crash leave you far worse off than you were before.

A better option? Try some dark chocolate.

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