Is Stress the Ultimate Diet Buster?

Wellbeing Tips
October 13, 2016

Could the stress of your job be canceling out your efforts to live a healthier life? A recent medical study suggests that, for some, how you live might be as important as what you put in your mouth.

Eat your kale, but first, take a deep breath…

A recent article published in the New York Times suggests that stress levels can “counteract the benefits of a healthful diet.” It references a study published last week in Molecular Psychiatry that aimed to address the impact of depression and daily stressors on the inflammatory responses to high-fat meals.
Researchers at the Ohio State College of Medicine created a double-blind study in which “58 healthy women” were observed for two separate 9.5 hour sessions. Women underwent the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV—an evaluation which determines whether or not an individual suffers from a history of major depressive disorders—as well as being assessed for stressors that may have come up the day prior to testing.
During the sessions, subjects were given either a “high saturated fat meal or a high oleic sunflower oil meal” which they consumed on the premises, and submitted to a blood sample before and after each meal. Using the blood sample, researchers analyzed atherogenic (or inflammatory) responses to the food ingested.
In low-stress women, they found inflammation to be higher after the high saturated-fat meal than it was after the sunflower oil meal. However, in high-stress women, there was no difference in inflammation; it was just as high after both meals. Aside from increased inflammation after meals, women with a history of MDD (major depressive disorder) also had higher blood pressure after their meals. With this data, researchers concluded that “recent stressors and an MDD history can reverberate through metabolic alterations, promoting inflammatory and atherogenic responses.”
Although the New York Times article suggests that “stress may counteract the beneficial effects of a healthful diet,” it is important to note that this study has a specific focus on inflammation after consumption, not on all benefits of a healthy diet. Even though subjects with high stress levels showed equally high inflammation after the healthier fat option, the findings of this study do not challenge or negate all of the benefits of healthy eating. Most importantly, they support the importance of minimizing stress in daily life.
In fact, a few different articles point to the idea that eating healthily may help to reduce stress in the first place. A Physicians Committee article entitled, How to Eat Right to Reduce Stress points out that high-fat foods “can make us feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress.” An article by the Stress Management Society notes that although processed foods “might make you feel good at first, they can actually leave us feeling more wired.” They suggest swapping out refined flour for whole grain, eliminating caffeinated beverages, which might cause you to become irritable, reducing carbs, and even just taking the time to eat slower instead of shoveling food in at every meal.
So instead of allowing stress to control your eating habits, practice healthy eating habits to help control your stress!
Need more help in reducing stress levels? Get active or try meditation.