“Poor nutrition” can encompass a number of things from too few calories to too much unhealthy fat, so I’m going to address the 3 most common means of poor nutrition that I see in my practice when dealing with busy professionals:
- Too much sugar
- Missing meals
Too much sugar. From vanilla lattes in the morning to chocolate in the afternoon to glasses of wine in the evening, sugar is a massive threat to our society’s well being. It contributes to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and more, and suppresses our immune system, which is an underlying factor in cancer. When you encounter or perceive a stressor, a number of things happen in your body in order to keep you safe from this threat. One thing that happens is that your body breaks down tissues and muscle in order to provide the energy (glucose) that is stored in those tissues. When that glucose is released, it goes into your bloodstream because it assumes that you’re going to use that energy/glucose to run from your threat or alternatively, to flee from it. If you don’t use that glucose to do some form of movement (running, fighting), then you’re stuck with an overload of sugar/glucose in your bloodstream. This is one reason why people who eat even the cleanest diets can end up with diabetes and why stress is just as bad as eating junk food.
But imagine adding even more sugar to your diet? Sugar-filled lattes, snacks and wine (NOTE: I’m not anti-wine…I just suggest you choose the right ones!)? Your digestive system, particularly your liver, cannot digest all of that sugar efficiently and if it’s forced to do this extra work, it either cannot metabolize the sugar you’ve ingested or it fails at doing the other work it’s responsible for such as regulating hormones, regulating blood sugar, detoxifying chemicals and drugs, or metabolizing fat for energy.
Missing meals. Skipping meals because of deadlines or hectic schedules is all too common. But if you’re stressed because of a deadline and your body is stressed because you missed an opportunity to give it energy and nutrients, then it’s a double whammy on your body. Your body needs food for energy and as soon as you miss meals, it’s almost like dieting, which as we’ve learned, is also a stress on the body. If you were being starved, would it stress you out? Yes, it would. So it makes sense that your body would be feeling stress too!
Dehydration. I am always amazed at how little water people drink and am never amazed at how much better they feel when they drink enough. Your body needs a certain amount of water to function (the general rule is 8-10 glasses per day but truly, you need 1 oz per pound of body weight, and that includes the water you’d obtain in foods and beverages). Think of what happens when your car runs out of oil. The car will seize up and stop running. Your body is no different. If you need a visual, imagine this: your blood actually gets thicker when it’s dehydrated, and thicker blood takes longer to transport oxygen and nutrients to your cells. The most immediate noticeable result is fatigue. A poor sleep is also often the result of dehydration.
In general, remember this: Anytime your body is deprived of something it needs to function or is forced to deal with something in excess, it goes into a state of stress. And your body cannot tell the difference between tight deadlines, a fight with a boss, or sugar overload and dehydration. To your body, stress is stress is stress.