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Break the stress cycle and stabilise your weight

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Insecure: Even Angelina Jolie struggles with self acceptance. "Oh God, I struggle with low self-esteem all the time. I think everyone does. I have so much wrong with me. I'm odd looking. Sometimes I think I look like a funny looking muppet."

Insecure: Even Angelina Jolie struggles with self acceptance. "Oh God, I struggle with low self-esteem all the time. I think everyone does. I have so much wrong with me. I'm odd looking. Sometimes I think I look like a funny looking muppet."

Insecure: Even Angelina Jolie struggles with self acceptance. "Oh God, I struggle with low self-esteem all the time. I think everyone does. I have so much wrong with me. I'm odd looking. Sometimes I think I look like a funny looking muppet."

FOR many, food and stress go hand-in-hand. When we feel stressed we eat. When we feel stressed we can, in some cases, lose our appetite. When we are stressed we tend to skip meals, to the extent that we ignore our natural triggers to eat.

In all cases, we often end up eating the wrong foods, as we crave the energy and enjoyment that we may not be getting from a balanced diet.

When the morning alarm goes off, our body reacts by producing stress hormones, such as adrenaline. This is a good response (called the fight-or-flight response) that gets us energised and up to face the day.

Stress that continues without relief, however, can lead to a condition called distress, a negative stress reaction that can lead to headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, and problems sleeping.

Stress may weaken the immune system and increase the body's need for certain nutrients.

A balanced diet can help to stay focused, alert, energetic and healthy during times of stress. However, if you live off fast food, mindlessly munch in front of the TV at night and frequently skip meals, your health will suffer.

How to beat stress and stay well

1 EAT BREAKFAST: Have breakfast every morning, to get your blood sugar balanced from the outset. Make it as whole as possible: porridge rather that cornflakes; brown soda bread rather than white toast.

Even a small breakfast will suffice; a piece of fruit, or smoothie is enough.

2 HYDRATION: Drink some water every hour. Hydration is key to the health of the body as well as the brain.

Wean yourself off fizzy drinks with sparkling water and and then move on to still. Green tea, herbal and fruit teas are also keep you hydrated.

3 SNACKS ON THE GO: Carry a snack with you. By being always prepared with fruit, dried fruit, nuts, edamame beans or good quality cereal bars, you are less likely to be tempted to eat from vending machines.

4 CAFFEINE CAUTION: Ban caffeine containing drinks after 2pm. Caffeine has a half-life in the body of approximately six hours and will keep you awake and dehydrated long into the evening.

5 HEALTHY TREATS: Keep healthy snacks at home. Banish poor quality 'bargain' treats. If it's not there you can't eat it.

If what you have is wholesome and good quality then your body will thank you in the form of balanced blood sugar and balanced mood.

Make a shopping list and have nuts, seeds, frozen as well as fresh fruit, yoghurt, popcorn, small bagels, porridge-pots available, for evening or weekend munchies.

6 NERVOUS SYSTEM: Feed your nervous system. Your nervous system thrives on such nutrients as B-vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

Get these in good quality meat, nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, vegetables and oily fish.

7 BE COLOURFUL: Eat the rainbow! We often get stuck in a rut when it comes to our eating habits and limit ourselves to the same-old. Broaden your nutrient intake by trying as many new fruit and vegetables as you can. Your body will be better equipped to deal with the cost of stress.

8 EAT REGULARLY: Do not skip meals. Try not to go more than a couple of hours between meals.

If you are running on stress hormones (such as adrenaline) this commonly happens, the result of which is disruption of blood sugar levels. This, in turn, slows metabolic rate and sets you up for binges and cravings.

9 BOOZE RULES: Think before you drink. High caffeine drinks, from coffee to 'sports' drinks to cola, have an impact on stress hormones, notably raising cortisol levels in the blood for many hours after consumption.

Alcohol is included here. It contains no nutrients whatsoever, instead loading us up on 'empty' calories. Make sure you drink lots of water before, during and after alcohol, to limit its dehydrating effects.

10 PRIORITISE PROTEIN: Include protein in all main meals and develop a habit of eating little and often. Snacks do not need to be large; a handful (8-12) almonds constitute a snack!

THE BENEFITS

A sensible diet can reduce the effects of stress and help to combat such common problems as indigestion, bloating, caffeine-dependency, hangover, craving, along with sugar highs and lows.

Indigestion often results from eating during stressful situations and is also caused by eating on the run, so try to always sit down to eat at mealtime and pay attention to what you are eating. Listen to your hunger and full signals and learn to enjoy good food.

Bloating is stressful and results, often, from mindless eating and gulping down air along with food, or eating the wrong foods.

If MSG, for instance, causes you to bloat, then stay out of the Chinese restaurant during times of stress.

Caffeine-dependency is common in those who run on stress hormones, as it produces adrenaline. Try to stick to only one or two coffees or colas a day, and develop a green tea habit in its place.

We often use alcohol to 'de-stress' at night which compounds our stress in the morning. Not only do we feel dehydrated the following day, but we all know the solution to a hangover is a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit.

Sugar highs and lows usually follow. We also chase salt on such a day, in the form of rashers, crisps and the eventual Chinese takeaway, in the hope of sorting our dehydration and malaise.

Of course, diet is of paramount importance in times of prolonged stress, but the importance of exercise at such a time is also enormous.

Not only do we benefit from fresh air as a de-stressor, but the endorphins released in the brain as a result of vigorous exercise are the hormones that can give us a natural 'high' and give us a much needed release at times of stress.

Kickboxing, boxercise, martial arts, circuit class, spinning or a good fast run all come instantly to mind.


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