How to Minimize the Effects of Stress with the Paleo Lifestyle

By Kellyann Petrucci, Melissa Joulwan, Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan

Adopting the Paleo diet can help you minimize stress. What many people don’t know is that stress not only makes you sick but also makes you fat. Society tends to equate weight problems with gorging on food, but the roots often go much deeper than that. Some people eat because they’re hungry for something more in their life — like balance. Being under stress causes them to crave unhealthy foods without even realizing it.

When you find food clarity with the Paleo diet, your body starts normalizing. You create nutrient sufficiency and begin to regulate your hormones. You begin to gain the energy and the strength to deal with your stressors and create a better life.

Examine your body under stress

Almost everything you do rises and falls on how much stress that activity places on your body. Some stress is short term and can be positive (called eustress) if it gives you that short burst of adrenaline to move you closer to your purpose.

Your body isn’t designed for constant, ongoing stress. Your stress hormones are in place to deal with short-term stress (such as being chased by a tiger). Long-term stress is adverse to your physiology and dangerous to your health. Balance really is the key.

Your body changes under constant stress. Stress makes you heavy, makes your hair thin, ages your skin, and deteriorates all the structures and functions of your body. No wonder stress is a major contributor to illness, disease, and an unhappy life. Countless diseases (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and irritable bowel syndrome) stem from your body having to deal with chronic stress.

How stress affects food choices

Here’s information that can change your life: Sugar and fat are the main ingredients of stress hormones, so when you’re under stress, you crave more sugar and fat than you do under normal conditions. That’s why many people start stress eating; they’re trying to find a slower pace. In that way, stress eating is really a form of self-medication.

You’re actually hard-wired to eat sugar and fat. Ideally, however, you’d follow your nutritional blueprint and get your fat and sugar from wild game, nuts, fruits, and vegetables like your ancestors did, not from all the refined sugary carbohydrates around today.

Ever notice when you crave sugar and fat the most? Dollars to donuts, it’s when you’re stressed. That’s because of serotonin (or, rather, a lack of it). This hormone is a stress buffer; when your body is in balance, serotonin is released and offsets the activity in your body that leads to anxiety and depression. If you’re constantly under stress, though, your body can’t keep up with demand.

That’s when you start feeling a mess. You eventually have increased stress hormones (such as cortisol) and decreased serotonin — a terrible combination. You become anxious, irritable, tired, and unhappy. You get changes in your appetite for — you guessed it — sugar and fat. It ends up being a vicious cycle that leads to even more stress.

Eating Paleo is a great way to step off the roller coaster. The fats that are part of the Paleo diet are all healthy fats, and the lower-sugar nature of the diet is really helpful in breaking negative eating patterns.

Finding stress solutions

When you bring your stress level down, you quell your cravings for sugar and fat. The answer to reducing stress is to have balance between work/stress and play/relaxation. So often, the people seeking weight-loss management are heavy because their lives have gotten out of balance. They have too much stress and not enough tools to relax their bodies and bring them back to an even keel.

Living Paleo is about your choices. Ask yourself these questions before you make any decision: “Is this decision going to add a lot of stress in my life? Is it going to simplify my life or bring complexity to it?” Stress follows complexity. Learning to say “no” is one of the best stress-management tools you can develop!

Here are some suggested techniques to help you decompress. Make one of these options, or another healthy stress-management technique you enjoy, part of your lifestyle:

  • Chiropractic: Analyzes the body for nerve interference that occurs as a result of life’s stresses. Many people feel immediately calmer after treatment.

  • Massage: Decreases the stress hormone cortisol and the hormones that can cause aggressive behavior.

  • Yoga and meditation: Provide mental calmness, improved breathing, increased energy, and immunity.

  • Energy work: Taps into that force within your body that gives you deep healing and strength. Chinese medicine, acupuncture, Qi Gong, Reiki, and Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are just some of the techniques that center their healing on your body’s life force (also called prana, chi, or Qi).

  • Exercise: Boosts metabolism and changes the way your body responds to stress. Exercise is one of the most powerful things you can do to reverse stress, depression, anxiety, cravings, or negative eating patterns. But be careful — too much exercise is a stressor also.

Probably the best way to find a practitioner or a technique that may be right for you is to ask a holistic practitioner (holistic MD, naturopath, or chiropractor) who knows your history for her recommendations. These folks are often well connected to other practitioners in natural health and can recommend techniques and individual practitioners that suit your needs.

If you don’t know any such practitioners, ask around; people love to share this kind of information. You can also find a Paleo practitioner at PaleoPhysiciansNetwork.com.