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Ending Our Body’s Stress Cycle with a Simple Habit Change


By Ellen Holton for HartsSpace

*Please note that some of the following information was adopted from the book entitled The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.*

Last week my work hosted a potluck for “February Birthdays.” There were a variety of foods, including many desserts. I put aside a cupcake to enjoy for an afternoon snack.

The cupcake was delicious! The chocolate cake was moist and the frosting creamy and sweet. My taste buds were soaring.

Shortly after finishing my cupcake, however, I felt lethargic and my stomach was in knots.

The lesson I learned? That maybe a cupcake served solo does not serve my body as a good three o’clock snack.

Have you ever had a sweet or high-carb snack that was satisfying initially but left you feeling poorly shortly after?

In The Mood Cure, Julia Ross explains this process clearly and the stress that it can have on our bodies.

When we consume foods like cupcakes by themselves, it is harder for our body to recover verses when we have a cupcake after a nice meal.

Let’s go back to the cupcake. What happened when I ate it?

  1. The carbohydrates (sugars) in the cupcake caused my blood sugar (blood glucose) to spike, which my body interpreted as a stressful situation

  1. My adrenal glands (located atop the kidneys) released adrenaline in response to the stress

  1. My pituitary gland in my brain released endorphins, which caused the comforting and pleasure feeling I got when eating the cupcake

  2. My pancreas also began secreting insulin into my bloodstream to act on glucose (this step is actually affected in those with diabetes, where the body no longer produces or responds to insulin)

  1. The insulin bound to glucose in the bloodstream and migrated to my muscles, where it may eventually turn to fat cells for storage

  1. My blood sugar level was then too low because all the sugar was taken to my muscles

  1. Low blood sugar is even more of a stressful state than eating a cupcake, therefore my body secreted cortisol (the long-acting hormone in a prolonged stressful situation) to prevent me from going to a coma, hence “food coma”

Now we know why I felt so poorly after my cupcake. My blood sugar spiked, then plummeted, all at the expense of stress hormones.

If you choose to have a cupcake or sweet treat for a snack, that’s great and it would be delicious, but maybe it would feel better balanced by protein and fat. This balance may save yourself from feeling lethargic and hypoglycemic. Afterall, snacks and treats should always be enjoyable.  

Great snacks that are well balanced:

  • Almonds, cashews or peanuts with dried fruit

  • Toast and avocado spread

  • Fruit and nut-butter

  • Hard-boiled eggs and

  • Yogurt and granola

  • Crackers and cheese and/or meat

  • Pita and/or vegetables with hummus

  • Trail mix: nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate