You thought social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic was going to be your excuse to stress eat and binge watch television all day?
Think again, says nutritional biochemist Shawn Talbott, author of “The Cortisol Connection: Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health — and What You Can Do About It.”
A period like this is actually the worst time to be sleeping on healthy habits: a healthy diet, exercise and, yes, plenty of rest, Talbott tells The Post.
Living through a global health and economic crisis can be stressful, to say the least.
“Stress is at an all-time high,” he says. “We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end; we don’t know when quarantine will end; we don’t know what is going to happen with our jobs. All of that creates uncertainty . . . and leads to this chronically activated stress response.”
That stress response isn’t just bad for your psyche, Talbott says. It has the power to “Error: Break shortcode syntax invalid down every single tissue in the body,” a metabolic reaction called catabolism. This can lead to the immune system, muscle and skin breaking down, among other tissues, he says.
The only part of your body that doesn’t seem to shrink is your waistline.
“Your belly fat is the only tissue that expands in response to stress” as a result of cortisol, warns Talbott, which we already know can also put you at a higher risk of heart disease.
Stress deals a double-whammy to the tummy, he adds: “A stress-cortisol craving almost always is for high-sugar, high-fat junk food, and it’s constantly leading us to want to eat, eat, eat.”
Snackers gotta snack, so when the urge strikes, reach for something eye-catching.
“Some of the most effective nutrients we know of . . . are [in] brightly colored fruits and vegetables,” says Talbott. First, they’re full of fiber, which helps support healthy gut bacteria, and, in turn, your immune health. Healthy gut bacteria will “gobble up that cortisol before it starts causing problems in other parts of your body,” he says.
Flashy fruits such as kiwi, berries, citrus are also high in flavonoids, a nutritional compound “which can have a direct anti-stress response in the body,” he says.
Omega-3 fatty acids are also an effective “way to short-circuit that stress signal in the body.” Talbott says “fatty” or “fishy” fish, such as mackerel or tuna, are the best source of these so-called healthy fats. And nuts, seeds and flax are great vegetarian sources of omega-3s.
Stress-induced cortisol spikes are what triggers “fight or flight” mode in animals — and the best way to deal with that is to mimic those two responses.
Movement is “the most efficient way our bodies can make use of that cortisol,” says Talbott. He suggests trying to make time for a little indoor exercise, whether that be jumping jacks, squats or TikTok dance videos. “That’s going to be, in a sense, doing exactly what cortisol wants you to do,” he says.
After a long day of working, eating right and light (or not) exercise inside your home, you will hopefully be well on your way to a good night’s rest, which is also key to keeping stress at bay. “If you are sleep deprived, that’s going to be one of the things that will really increase your cortisol levels,” says Talbott.
But if you’re still lacking shut-eye, his favorite nighttime bite is yogurt with granola.
“It’s a delicious little snack,” he says, that can help “modulate” your blood sugar and cortisol levels — “so you’re less stressed out and have less of that stress eating” the next day.