For thirteen years as a nursing professor I posed this question to my nutrition students– “How does stress and life as a nursing student effect your eating habits?
Inevitably students always had one of two answers:
“As a nursing student I have a very busy schedule with studying. I know I have to make good food choices to keep myself healthy to do all the work I need to do.”
“As a nursing student I have a very busy schedule with studying. I have no time to make good food choices with all the work I need to do.”
What is the difference between these two groups? Does the group that prioritizes healthy eating have more time? Do they have more money?
The difference between the two groups is their attitude.
April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress can have a significant impact on our immune system and overall health. While we sometimes have little control over the stressors in our life, we can control our attitudes towards stress and how we take care of our bodies while under stress. Research has shown that our immune systems function best when supported by adequate sleep, regular exercise, and balanced food choices.
If your stress level is high make sure to do your best in these key areas:
• Make it a priority to go to bed earlier. Poor quality sleep is a trigger for inflammation and can increase your sensitivity to stressors in your life. Important health supporting hormones are released during each stage of sleep, but hormones produced in the early stages of sleep can especially be beneficial while under stress.
• Our quality of life, energy level, and health are significantly impacted by our daily dietary choices. Stress can also interfere with the management of blood glucose levels. Including foods prominent in a Mediterranean-style diet, such as plant-based foods- fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts along with limited amounts of red meat and frequent fish consumption has been found to reduce inflammation and lower risk of depression. One study found higher levels of helpful anti-inflammatory effect cytokines in individuals eating a Mediterranean-style diet while there were higher pro-inflammatory markers in those not eating as much of those beneficial foods.1 Include a wide variety of colors of fruits and vegetables at each meal to get the full spectrum of phytochemicals and vitamins needed for your immune system.
• Go for a brisk walk in sunlight to jump-start cortisol production. This can help support good energy levels. Moderate exercise for 30 minutes, three to five times per week is recommended for optimal health. Try to incorporate exercise into other activities such as reading while on a stationary bike or walking on the treadmill while watching a favorite program if your free time is limited.
• Set your attitude dial towards self-care. Make it a priority to take care of your body. Eat sensibly and drink water on a regular schedule. Chaotic eaters don’t make time for regular meals and then overeat when they do eat. Many people indulge today, justifying the choice and saying that tomorrow will be different or the “diet” starts next week. Focus on today’s eating and try to make a little bit better.
• Use positive self-talk. Think about how you address yourself in the mirror. Avoid saying mean things to yourself that you would never say to a best friend or a beloved pet. Trust and respect your body for all the amazing things it can do.
• Boredom, anger, stress, and sadness are emotions everyone deals with throughout over lives. Every emotion has a trigger, but they can all be dealt with. Food choices when driven by emotions or habits, rather than physical hunger can lead to weight gain. Find ways to comfort, distract, or resolve your emotions without turning to food. Soothing emotional hunger with food only leads to guilt and doesn’t solve the real problem. Focus on making one healthy change at a time. This will help you stay focused, not get frustrated, and give you more success in the end.
Azzini E, Polito A, Fumagalli A. Mediterranean diet effect: an Italian picture. Nutr J. 2011;10:125.