Did you know the word “stressed” spelt backwards is “desserts”? It’s not uncommon to reach out for a snack to help soothe our nerves when stressed. Unfortunately, the snacks we tend to choose are often junk food, which can have negative consequences for our health and well-being.
According to Johannesburg-based dietitian Tabitha Hume, when people are stressed or sad, not enough serotonin is produced, which is the calm and peaceful chemical that makes them feel good.
So people tend to eat foods that stimulate the production of serotonin, which are high-GI, wheat flour, or cake-flour foods.
She explains that carbohydrates and fats release glucose into your bloodstream very fast, and that causes the brain to release much more serotonin, which improves one’s mood.
Reaching out to junk food for comfort
Anele Ntombela from Utrecht in KwaZulu-Natal says being stressed dramatically increases her junk food cravings and has caused unnecessary weight gain for her.
“When I’m stressed or sad, I notice an increase in appetite and a desire to eat sugary, salty, or fatty foods. I feel better after eating junk food, which leaves me wanting more. I’ve tried to exercise, but being soothed by food is much easier,” she says.
Also opting for junk food when sad or stressed, Amahle Nxumalo from the Free State mentions that this has led to a lot of weight gain but is sceptical about trying healthier alternatives.
“Junk food is tastier to me than healthy food, so I feel like it consoles me. It honestly doesn’t help; instead, the guilt of letting myself down by subjecting myself to more weight gain always strikes me,” admits Nxumalo.
A vicious cycle
Hume remarks that eating junk food can produce a temporary feeling of pleasure and relief, but in the long term, it can lead to a variety of health problems.
“If you are using food to improve your mood, you are not facing and dealing with the problem. The type of food that people eat to eliminate stress makes the blood sugar level rise quickly, causing the production of lots of insulin.
“The more insulin you have, the more prone you are to having lifestyle disorders such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and infertility. Junk food contains a huge amount of fat, which makes it more dangerous and may lead to being obese, which carries additional health-related problems.”
Break the cycle
Reaching for junk food when stressed may seem like a simple solution, but Hume advises people to break the cycle and consider healthier other healthier alternatives.
“Healthier alternatives would be having enough fruits and vegetables, slow-release carbohydrates, lean proteins, whole grain products, and definitely much more plant-based proteins like beans and lentils. A diet containing these can greatly improve mental health and create a much better mood.
Going for a walk, run, or any exercise can also dramatically improve one’s mood because not only does it improve circulation, but it also causes the release of endorphins, and endorphins are direct mood enhancers,” she adds.
Hume further encourages people to always try out other ways to manage stress levels without sacrificing their health.
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