Anxiety & appetite: what to eat when stress affects your stomach

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Anxiety & appetite: what to eat when stress affects your stomach

By Jane Clarke

May 31, 2020

We've all felt that cramping, gut-wrenching feeling in our stomach when we're anxious, and it's as physical as it is emotional. Stress triggers our fight or flight response – our body is flooded with hormones cortisol and adrenaline ready to help us flee or defend ourselves (even if that is from pandemic panic or a horrendous house move), not sit down and digest a leisurely dinner. We lose our appetite, crave sweet, salty and fatty foods that give us a fast energy fix and briefly satisfy the feelgood, calming dopamine receptors in our brain, and means that the food we do eat, even healthy options, can affect our body in unexpected ways.

Stress can aggravate IBS, for example, due to the body’s reduced ability to digest large, complex molecules such as gluten, so you may want to reduce the amount of bread and pasta in your diet when you’re feeling particularly tense. Fatty foods can also be hard to digest, especially fried fast food; it can cause diarrhoea or bloating. Sweet foods can leave you struggling for energy, as that brief sugar high leads to an energy crash that’s hard to bounce back from when you’re already under strain. Try to eat unprocessed foods, as they will contain fewer additives that your body may struggle to cope with when it’s already battling on all fronts – our Nourish Drinks, for example, contain only natural, organic ingredients and no hidden nasties, so they're gentle on your gut and provide all the protein, vitamins and minerals you need if you can't stomach a plateful of food.

If you can face cooking, you may find the methodical process of putting together a meal from scratch may actually provide a few moments of peace and mindfulness that helps to calm your anxiety. Opt for easy to digest, antioxidant-rich comfort foods such as root vegetables (wonderful as a mash or slowly cooked in a stew), protein-rich soups that will give you sustained energy (chicken soup is a classic). And if you can’t face three meals a day, have healthy snacks on standby. A cracker with some cheese, sliced egg or hummus, or one of my nutritionally complete, meal-replacement Nourish Drinks will give you a boost. You could also try a shot of aloe vera juice to help soothe a stressed gut and sipping on settling fennel tea instead of caffeinated tea and coffee which can trigger the stress response.

Try these recipes to soothe your stomach and soul
Vegetable tagine
Carrot & potato butter mash
Fish pie

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