Eating Healthy is Better than Dieting to Avoid Stress

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

Over the years, the human lifestyle has changed. It can be argued that now more than ever, stressors are ever-present. Because of this, it has become even more important for you to practice eating healthy. Doing so gives you the best chance to stay fit, avoid illnesses, and protect your entire body, including your adrenals.

Why the Wrong Diet Can Leave You Feeling Incredibly Stressed Out

Eating healthy and right dietAmong most people today, there is a desire to be thinner, leaner, and sexier. In fact, according to one survey from Gallup, as much as 51 percent of adult Americans have expressed interest in losing weight. Moreover, recent research from the Statistic Brain Research Institute found that 91 percent of women also tend to be unhappy with their bodies, and opt to go on a diet.

The problem with this is people are now willing to do anything to shed a few pounds. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if they are eating healthy. People just want to quickly become a few pounds lighter.

Because of this, there is a continuous wave of fad diets being introduced. These diets recommend cutting back significantly on certain foods without properly compensating the body for the loss. Hence, the body may view dieting as experiencing famine and trigger stress as a result.

Once the body detects that it is lacking energy from food, it can possibly sense that it is under stress. Among the stress hormones the body would turn to is cortisol. When cortisol is released, it can stimulate gluconeogenesis. This is a process wherein proteins are turned into glucose. When this happens, your body’s energy expenditure is immediately increased. According to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 42 percent of participants experienced a significant energy expenditure increase after going on a high protein, no carbohydrate diet.

At the same time, dieting can also cause psychological stress. Since dieting implies a certain restriction in food, it can lead to deprivation. This, in turn, can trigger several negative emotions, which can be stressful. In fact, a review of dieting studies back in 1994 found that dieting produces negative consequences on emotion. These consequences primarily appear in the form of anxiety, nervousness, and depression. In addition, a study conducted by the University of Missouri found that dieting resulted in negative self-esteem among adolescent women, thereby also increasing their risk for eating disorders. Moreover, the act of recording one’s food intake daily may also become another stressor. This further causes anxiety, irritability, and frustration.

Such negative feelings impact you mentally and emotionally, and the consequences also manifest in your overall health. When you are constantly stressed out, your adrenal glands, in turn, suffer a great deal.

How Your Adrenals Get Compromised When You Diet Unhealthily

Eating healthy vs unhealthyYour adrenal glands are responsible for helping you deal with stress the moment it occurs. It does so by releasing several hormones designed to prepare you for a fight-or-flight response. These hormones include cortisol, which is also known as the body’s stress hormone. As the stress starts to go away, however, your adrenal glands also reduce the amount of cortisol they are releasing. As this happens, your body begins to relax a bit more, eventually returning to a more peaceful state.

The problem with dieting is that it essentially puts your body in a constant state of stress. Because of this, your adrenals are forced to keep releasing cortisol until they can no longer keep up with demand. When this happens, a hormonal imbalance is triggered due to your body’s NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response being disrupted.

As a result, you may suffer from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), which can cause you to feel constantly exhausted and depressed. When adrenal fatigue advances and gets much worse, it can also lead to more serious health problems such as low blood pressure, dehydration, diarrhea, severe vomiting, and even loss of consciousness.

To make matters worse, long-term dieting may not even deliver the results you want to achieve, namely weight loss. This is because constant stress tends to result in weight gain through the stress-responsive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) pathway that affects your energy metabolism.

In fact, several studies have uncovered a strong correlation between weight gain and stress due to increased cortisol regulated by the prolonged activation of the HPA axis. In addition, a study conducted by the State University of New York also found elevated salivary cortisol levels among participants who were practicing restrained eating. This may also explain why a study conducted by Yale University found a link between having high cortisol levels and high waist-to-hip ratio.

As you can see, dieting is not always the healthiest way to lose weight and achieve a healthier body. Instead, you should start eating healthy by making smarter food choices so that you don’t experience unwanted weight gain and further stress.

Keep Your Stress from Getting Worse by Avoiding These Foods

Indeed, there are some foods that can make your stress levels much worse. Hence it is highly advisable to avoid them.

Refined Sugar

Eating healthy, avoiding sugarFoods that are high in refined sugars tend to cause fluctuations in your insulin and blood sugar levels. This causes irritability, mood swings, and even poor concentration.

These sugary treats also have significantly fewer nutrients than other foods. Hence, they are not exactly the best foods to opt for if you are making a serious commitment towards eating healthy.

High Sodium Foods

High sodium foods like chips and pretzels can cause fluid retention in your body. All that extra fluid can then increase your blood pressure and stress you out. You may also experience some bloating due to the water retention, bringing your energy levels down.


You may not realize it, but consumption of alcohol can stimulate your body to produce the same hormones it does when you are stressed out. This produces effects such as anxiety, higher cortisol levels, and high blood pressure. Hence, it is almost like alcohol and stress are feeding on each other. Moreover, a study conducted by the University of Chicago found that alcohol can readily prolong feelings of tension caused by stress.

Easy Tips to Eating Healthy that You Can Follow Daily

Now that you know what sort of foods make stress worse, it’s time to learn how to achieve a healthier daily diet. Before you try anything, however, remember that it is advisable to check with your physician first. This is because you may have a sensitivity or intolerance towards specific types of foods.

That said, here are some tips you can follow towards eating healthy for life:

Choose Real Foods Over Anything Else

Eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, your diet should be composed of simple, whole foods that you can readily find in your local supermarket. These include fresh greens and other vegetables such as bell peppers, squash, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.

Go for wholesome sources of fiber such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal. As for proteins, keep them lean and fresh, so go for fish, chicken, or lean cuts of pork, beef, or lamb.

Always Have a Meal Plan Ready

Having a meal plan helps make sure you don’t end up eating something that’s bad for your health in the middle of the week. At the same time, it allows you to stay on budget when it comes to meals.

Prepare Your Healthy Foods in Large Batches

Preparing a meal in the middle of the week can be a challenge. In this case, the best solution is to cook large batches of healthy food over the weekend, so you have plenty of leftovers to heat up.

Remember these tips and commit to following them to make your daily diet much healthier. Keep in mind that everything you put into your body matters, especially when it comes to your adrenal glands. If you commit to eating healthy, there’s a better chance for you to avoid suffering from adrenal fatigue. In turn, you will live a healthier and happier life.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Eating healthy ensures that you always have a balanced diet that would provide your body enough nutrients and minerals for the day. This way, your body also gets the right amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat with each and every meal.

Eating healthy