Where does stress come from and how does it influence your energy level, sleep quality, and risk of injury or illness? Shnikeys, we’ve got a lot to talk about, friends. Let’s get started…
The following is an excerpt from our Nutritional Guide: an introduction to eating well. For the whole avocado, click here or after you finish reading, you will find a colorful image and link at the end of this piece.
Yikes! Stress sure gets a bad rap. It can sound so “dramatic”. Oi oh vai, I’m so stressed out! Yet if you’re willing to take the emotion out of it, we can recognize that stress is not a feeling, but more so a reaction. It is defined as either:
- A pressure or tension exerted on a material object.
- A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
Your body can experience stress in a variety of forms – psychological (e.g. emotional strain), environmental (e.g. chemical pollutants, toxins), physical (e.g. over-training, poor movement patterns) and nutritional (acidic foods, pesticides in food). When you separate your sources of stress, it’s easier to understand where there may be too much. This has been an extremely helpful perspective I learned while taking the Sports Nutrition certification by Matthew Kenney Culinary. Three cheers for healing with whole body wellness!
The body can only handle so much stress until it begins to literally break down. Those SOS signals tried to warn us! And get this, the body doesn’t seem to differentiate between different types of stress. Stress is stress. Your body has the same chemical reaction to any stressor.
Not mentioned yet is the evolutionary need for our stress response (often termed “fight or flight”) as a method to survive and react to potential threats. When confronted with a threat – like a Wild Wombat! – your adrenal glands (sitting above your kidneys) release hormones to prepare you to either run away or fight for survival or food. Once the threat is gone, your hormone levels go back to normal. Unless, that is, there are too many “threats” and you remain in a state of stress.
Poor adrenals. The modern lifestyle is overstimulating to our adrenal glands, potentially leading to poor functioning or even adrenal fatigue, an issue I have experienced first-hand. While you might think a professional water polo player turned yoga / spin / pilates instructor would be crazy healthy (heck, I thought I was), my body was breaking down right in front of me. You couldn’t see it on the outside, but there were signs. I didn’t recognize the SOS signals (various injuries, fatigue, sickness) for what they were. Instead, I kept pushing…until things broke down. Oh, those wild wombats. Actually, wombats aren’t known to be aggressive. So let’s pretend I’m talking about zombie wombats. That’s way more realistic.
Everything in our Nutritional Guide is geared towards decreasing the stress you experience, in all facets. I believe that making smart food choices can decrease your nutritional stress, and your physical, psychological and environmental stress, as well. Here’s an example: if you eat organic foods, you’ll be consuming less pesticides and herbicides (which are found in non-organic foods). These toxins are a form of environmental stress. Eat organic foods and you decrease your environmental stress.
Now that we’ve defined what stress is and where it comes from, let’s look at how it directly influences your body and health. Simply put, stress increases inflammation in your body. Too much inflammation in the body increases the stress response. It’s a sneaky cycle. If you have too much cortisol in your body – one of the hormones released when the body experiences any form of stress – it is more difficult to reach a deep phase of sleep, called Deep Delta Phase. This is where a hormone, aptly named, Growth Hormone is released, which helps repair our cells from the day’s stresses. If we don’t release the Growth Hormone, our cells will not be able to regenerate. Instead they will be in a dehydrated, degenerative state, and more vulnerable to disease and illness because our immune system is also down (cortisol also suppresses the immune and digestive system in order to increase blood sugar levels – just in case we have to run away from a herd of zombie wombats).
Eating food takes energy. This is a natural occurrence for the human body. But what if you eat foods that require excessive amounts of energy to digest? What if this food isn’t even giving you the vitamins, minerals, proteins and so on, to nourish your hungry cells? Well that’s what we call Nutritional stress, my friends! It’s like when you put heaps of time, effort and money into a project, only to find it totally belly-flopped and you’re worse off than when you started.
While this sounds slightly depressing, the crazy cool glimmer of positivity here is that you have a choice. You decide what you eat, where you get your food from, and how it’s prepared. Yes, it takes effort. But isn’t your health worth it? The better you can be for yourself, the better you can be for others. Let the glimmering positivity shine! You can decrease your nutritional stress!
According to the online nutritional resource Thrive Forward (powered by Vega), “Nutritional stress is created EITHER by not getting enough healthy, nutrient dense foods, or by consuming too much heavily processed foods with unhealthy characteristics. Malnutrition isn’t a third world problem—in North America we have people who are overfed yet undernourished.”
One of the easiest ways to differentiate between foods that create an inflammatory and stressful response in the body (Nutritional stress), and those that don’t, is knowing whether they are acidic or alkaline forming. Your body has a pH level of approximately 7.35. Alkaline foods have a higher pH level (above 7.0), while acidic foods have a lower pH level (below 7.0).
What you consume can influence your internal pH level, for better or for worse. Alkaline forming foods help increase the body’s pH level, thus decreasing inflammation, improving hydration and cellular regeneration — exactly what your body craves! Acidic foods do pretty much the opposite. They are dehydrating, increase inflammation and premature aging (cellular degeneration). Think of all the issues and illnesses associated with inflammation – heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, physical injuries, and so on.
Unfortunately the typical American diet is acidic. Media and government support for specific diets and foods can also be misleading for someone looking to eat clean, organic, nutrient dense foods. While I hope my guide can be of use wherever you may be in the world, just know your local environment will greatly influence any challenges and convenience to eating well.
What type of tensions or strains do you experience on a daily basis? Can you think of one positive change you can make today to lower your stress? It might come from changes in your environment, physical changes in your daily movement habits or even how you exercise (yes, there is such a thing as over-training), or even how you handle an emotional experience.
If you’re not sure, a good place to start is to think in terms of balance. What do you have too much of in your life? What do you have too little of? Do you have any repetitive habits, like eating a lot of the same thing or standing a specific way? Maybe you could decrease stress simply by bringing variety to your habits. Can you even adjust how you’re sitting or standing while you’re reading this? Maybe add a little dance while you’re at it! When you’re ready for more, click the Nutritional Guide image below to download and continue your journey cultivating clean nutrition and lifestyle balance. Wooha!