Alice comes home from work after a very long and exhausting day with only one thing on her mind; sleep. She barely gets time to have a decent meal during lunch. She goes to bed, ignoring the grumbling of her empty stomach. She keeps this habit going, even when she knows it can’t be good for her health.
And then there is Marc, who works a lot and only gets one day off, during which he has school to attend. He thinks about all the things he has to do and the only thing that relieves his stress is food; so he orders lots of it and eats.
Weighing both sides
Leah Mfiteyesu, a private nutritionist, explains how some hormones in the body are affected due to stress and, the different reactions caused relating to eating habits.
“There is a stress hormone called cortisol, when this hormone increases in the body it causes people to react differently, that is why you will find some eating a lot and others not eating at all. There is also a hormone called dopamine that causes feelings like happiness and joy, which also increases in response to stress,” she explains.
When someone’s level of happiness is low, you will find them seeking comfort in eating too much, but also not everybody will eat, some will also find comfort in not eating, and instead sleep or even turn to alcohol, Mfiteyesu adds.
Private Kamanzi, a nutritionist and dietetic practitioner, says that sometimes when people are stressed, they tend to create a certain perception to manage their stress.
“There are people who get stressed and tend to eat a lot as a way to reduce the stress or keep their mind from wandering, these people eat mostly junk food. But there are also some who lose their appetite, but this is not a perception they create in their mind, rather, they just do not feel like eating,” he says adding that binge eating is the most common case in Rwanda.
According to Mfiteyesu, it is better to first manage stress before planning a diet because stress affects the body physically and psychologically.
Christella Ishimwe, a clinical psychologist at BAHO Ubudaheranwa, explains more on the psychological perspective.
“When you have something stressing you, your brain stops thinking about other things and only focuses on that one thing bothering you. There are people that will not see eating as a priority because they are focused on their stress, and others will eat a lot to stop thinking about the stress as a coping mechanism,” she says.
“When someone loses their appetite, they get a deficiency of micronutrients—a lack of iron, folate and vitamins B12 and A—the body doesn’t store the micronutrients so it will cause lot of problems like anaemia, constipation, weight loss and loss of calories in the body,” says Kamanzi. And people that binge eat are likely to struggle with obesity and diabetes.
According to Mfiteyesu, before they provide solutions like a healthy meal chart for someone whose eating pattern has been disrupted by stress, they advise them to first talk to a psychologist to help them find the cause of their stress and possible answers.
“When someone is stressed, we first find what triggered it, is it family, work-related? Then after finding the trigger we provide therapy, sometimes with the people that caused the stress, to understand that it is crucial to help that person. After that, we provide a positive coping mechanism that won’t destroy the body,” explains Ishimwe.
When it comes to managing stress, Kamanzi recommends taking foods rich in micronutrients. “There are powders that contain all healthy nutrients, they can have them in smoothies if they don’t have time to eat.
“People who like too much sugar are offered other healthy options like dried fruit, for example, raisins or apricots,” Mfiteyesu says.
Read More:Wellbeing: The influence of stress on eating habits