Nikki Ostrower (Nutritionist)
Relieving Stress Through Food
As an Integrative Nutritionist and Biohacking lover, I’ve tried and loved so many powerful modalities for stress relief over many years of research and experimenting. But nowadays, there are so many to choose from, that it sometimes causes my clients “stress” just thinking about it and can distract them from what matters most.
Infrared Sauna, Cold Showers and Cryotherapy, Breathwork like Wim Hof, Yoga, CBD, plant medicine, and SO many more I could write a book about them. But if you are new to the Health and Wellness world (or even if you are a seasoned vet, please read this carefully), you can’t biohack your way out of stress while ignoring your foundations.
What are those foundations? At this point, you may have read them a million times in Healthline articles, WebMD, or from your favorite blogger. But these are your non-negotiable daily habits that can’t be overlooked when it comes to stress:
5. Mind, Body, Spirit Connection
That last one, to me, is all-encompassing of things like Meditation, Yoga, grounding exercises, walking in Nature, loving relationships, practicing gratitude, and many more options that are FREE and very accessible to us.
Since Food is my expertise, I’m going to focus on giving you a little wisdom on how and why you should be focusing on stress relief through Nutrition as a top priority.
Food nourishes not only your gut, but your brain. We know now that the gut is our second brain, and that the majority of our neurotransmitters are actually produced in the gut! So in order to nourish your gut to great health, feeling less anxious, depressed, and stressed out, you have to know what foods to eat, when to eat, and how to eat them.
While I could write an article on each of those categories, I wanted to provide you with a quick “cheat sheet” of some of the best foods to eat so you feel at peace, when to eat to support balanced mood and energy, and how to eat so you support optimal digestive function and absorb those nutrients!
What to eat:
Omega 3s - you can get these from foods like walnuts, chia seeds, and wild-caught fish. Omega 3s are powerful anti-inflammatory agents, and when you reduce inflammation, you reduce stress and the toll inflammation takes on the body.
Magnesium - Magnesium is the relaxation mineral responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body. If you are feeling tense, tight, constipated, overly stressed all the time, and/or anxious, chances are you need magnesium. This can be found in spinach, avocados, quinoa, legumes, nuts and seeds, and clean dark chocolate with raw cacao.
B Vitamins - these can be found in protein-rich foods like grass-fed beef, eggs, and Nutritional Yeast. B Vitamins, especially B-12, impact your body’s ability to detox and your cellular energy. They also help metabolize cortisol!
Probiotic rich foods - think sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir. These foods feed the good gut bacteria in your belly to help balance your very complex gut microbiome. There are trillions of microbes living inside of us, but they can live symbiotically (and quite literally make you feel less stressed out) when you take good care of them.
What NOT to eat:
Inflammatory Foods - Anything that commonly drives up inflammation will drive up stress, such as fried foods, canola and other vegetable oils, gluten, dairy, sugar, soda, fast foods, and more. Do yourself a favor and start a “food mood” journal where you note how you feel within a couple of hours after you eat. If you feel cranky, low energy, moody, anxious, depressed, or stressed out soon after eating, take a look at what you ate.
Use Food Sensitivity Testing - Some foods that drive inflammation vary per person and would surprise you! That’s why we offer Food Sensitivity Testing, so you know what foods drive your inflammation up without guessing.
When to Eat:
Timed Eating - this can significantly reduce inflammation and help you feel calmer eating within a certain window of time by day, giving your body a break for the remaining hours. What’s best varies from person to person, and this is not for everyone, so don’t do this if you are pregnant, have an eating disorder, low blood sugar, etc. If you are brand new, start slow with 12 hours on, 12 hours off. You sleep the majority of that time at night!
Eat when you feel mild hunger coming on - this is about every 3-4 hours. Just don’t wait to eat until you feel starved. That causes blood sugar irregularities (highs and lows), which cause your cortisol to spike. You end up feeling “hangry” and will more likely reach for sugary foods because your body is craving quick fuel. You’ll also end up eating more food, because that primal part of your brain goes into “survival” mode and makes you believe you need to “store up” until the next feeding time.
Stop eating 3 hours before bed - this will support your circadian rhythms, so you sleep better at night and your body is focused on rest and rejuvenation, not digesting something you just ate before you lie down. You’ll wake up feeling lighter, healthier, and happier!
How to Eat:
Eat seated at a table (not your computer desk), paying attention to what you are eating! Many times, we may eat unconsciously while doing another activity (work, watching TV, driving), and suddenly the food is gone, and we didn’t even experience it. Relax and enjoy your food when you eat.
Eat in Parasympathetic mode - aka “rest and digest” mode, where the body simply knows how to break down your foods. Don’t eat when you know your body is in a state of fight or flight - your energy is focused on survival in those moments, not on digestion. So, you won’t break down and assimilate your foods as well. Take some deep breaths, calm the nervous system, then eat.
Chew, chew, chew - digestion begins in your mouth. So, chew your food as much as you can before you swallow, and you’ll support your stomach with the next phase of the food’s journey. Eating without chewing enough can stress out your stomach.
Give yourself 20 minutes to eat and digest - that’s when your brain signals satiety, so hold off on seconds until you’ve given yourself time to digest your first portion. Try to stop eating when you feel about 80% full, giving your stomach room to churn the food. That will help you not feel weighed down, heavy, and lethargic from overeating.
All of the above will go a LONG way to helping relieve stress through what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat. Along with sleep, hydration, exercise, and connection, you are well on your way to creating sustainable habits for stress relief that will support you for the rest of your life!
For those who may be a bit more advanced in their journey and feel great about those 5 foundations already, that’s where the biohacking tools mentioned are still wonderful practices to enhance and further optimize your body’s adaptability and fluidity with stress. (Infrared sauna is my personal fave). ;)