Healthy Eating Doesn't Matter If You're Stressed -- Here's Why

stressed couple at kitchen tableEverett Collection/Shutterstock

You dutifully eat your fruits and veggies. Watch your fast food intake. Eschew red meat. You've even taught yourself to love chia seed pudding. (Okay, maybe "love" is a strong word.) But here's what sucks: If you're stressed out of your gourd, that A++ you've earned for healthy eating doesn't matter.

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That's the bad news out of a recent issue of a journal called Molecular Psychology. Yes, your diet can contribute to inflammation in your body. (And inflammation is what causes disease.) But depression and stress can, too.

To the point that if you're stressed and eat a healthy meal, you might as well have gorged yourself on one gunked up with saturated fat.

"This does not surprise me at all," admits Dr. Scott Schreiber, a chiropractic physician in Newark, Deleware, who's double board certified in rehabilitation and clinical nutrition, as well as a certified nutrition specialist and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist.

"Stress effects us much more that we give it credit for," he explains. "I see this often. Americans push it to the side and keep on going, but stress and lack of positive stress-reducing habits are a recipe for disaster."

Chronic stress can result in a host of physical side effects. Take your pick: headaches, digestive problems, weight gain, memory issues, anxiety, depression, heart disease, insomnia...

But this research doesn't mean that you can throw out that kale-tahini salad if you're having a full-on stressful day and head to Carl's Jr. for lunch instead. "We still have to eat, and we need to make sure that it's healthy," says Schreiber.

More from CafeMom: How to Stop Stress From Ruining Your Good Times

And you also need to up your efforts to downsize your stress. Here's how:

1. Hydrate. "I encourage my patients to drink a lot of water," says Schreiber. Even being just half a liter off in your consumption can cause your "stress hormone" levels to rise.

2. Get your moment of Zen EVERY day. Practice ways to reduce stress "even when you don't feel stressed," Schreiber advises. "This gives you practice for when these situations occur. It's like 'banking' [the relief] for later."

3. Sweat, already. Exercise ups your body's production of endorphins, a "feel good" chemical -- and even FIVE minutes can help. Dance with your kids, take a brisk walk, hit the gym... "This can be in any form provided you don't turn it into a competition and make it stressful," says Schreiber. 
 
4. Connect your mind and body. "Yoga, tai chi, and meditation are excellent for stress reduction," says Schreiber.
 
5. Try a natural treatment. Massage and acupuncture are both science-backed ways of getting stress relief. Schreiber's also a fan of sensory deprivation tanks, which allow you to float in water that's been heavily treated with Epsom salts while you tune out the rest of the world. 
 
6. Call it a day. "Make sure you get plenty of sleep and don't stay up late worrying about [your stress]. This will only make it worse," says Schreiber.
 
And keep eating that chia-seed pudding and kale salad. Stress is a many-headed monster, after all. You'll need to keep up your strength to beat it.
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