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  • Barbara Shead

Is Dieting Making Me Stressed, Tired and Irritable?

It’s the time of year when many of us are looking to lose weight. Whilst there is plenty of guidance on social media, the internet, and in magazines on how you might achieve it, this advice can be unclear. For example, we are told to eat less, or count calories, to exercise, eat a low fat/low carb/high protein/high fibre diet. Many people have tried a variety, if not all, of these promoted weight-loss diets.


This conflicting advice can be confusing, even bewildering. Some may follow a regime they believe promotes healthy eating, often restricting calories, and then hey presto the advice changes.


Studies have illustrated that people with mood disorders often have poor quality diets, possibly due to eating low quality, highly processed, high fat/sugar diets. These poor-quality diets can also be due to overly restricting food, eating seemingly healthy food but very small food portions, or missing meals because of fears around putting on weight or losing unwanted weight.


Food is fuel

When we eat our food, it provides us with fuel for our everyday needs. For instance, keeping our weight stable, for our lungs to breathe, our heart to beat, and for optimal digestion.


Many people worry about eating too many carbohydrates, unaware how vital they are for good health. When we eat carbs, they release their glucose into the bloodstream and provide energy or fuel for most cells of the body, for our organs to work, to enable nervous activity, to be able to move. Most importantly, the brain is particularly hungry for glucose to function.


Fat is similarly important for bodily needs. We need fat as an energy source and to support cell function, to protect organs, and keep you warm. Fat also helps you to produce hormones, provides energy stores, helps to keep your immune system optimal and so much more.


Protein is also a source of energy and provides the base materials for muscles, bones, blood vessels, DNA & RNA, skin, hair and nails, forming the basis of enzymes, antibodies and some hormones. Protein is needed for muscle repair and to achieve a healthy nervous system and brain function.


What does the research say?

So, we come back to the question of whether dieting can make you stressed. Let’s look at a study conducted on young healthy men with no history of weight problems.


The Ancel Keys study was carried out on healthy young conscientious objectors during the Korean war as an alternative to military duties. This study aimed to measure changes in physical and psychosocial functions from a calorie deficiency. There were three phases of the experiment, each lasting three months. The first phase consisted of normal eating while their eating habits and personalities were observed. During the second phase, they were put on a strict diet with their calories halved, the third phase was a rehabilitation period when they were reintroduced to normal eating.


Interestingly, during the second phase which involved calorie restriction the subjects began to display a fascination for food, continually discussing food, dreaming about it, some planned to change their careers to include cookery. They were constantly hungry, felt cold, their metabolism slowed, for some their hair fell out and many lost their libidos. There was a marked change in mood, they became more anxious and prone to depression, withdrawing from social contact. Two had breakdowns; there were thoughts of suicide and violence, one attempted self-mutilation in an attempt to be released from the study.


At the end of the study during phase three, when the subjects were allowed to eat to satiety many consumed up to 10,000 calories a day, and after twenty weeks of recovery averaged 50 per cent more body fat than at the start of the study.


So, which diet is best then?

So far, we have learnt that we need carbohydrates, fats and proteins, amongst other important nutrients, as a vital source of energy to enable balanced nutritional status, metabolic efficiency, as well as the production of healthy neurotransmitters and hormones for both mental and physical wellbeing and much more.


Another important consideration is that the body makes strenuous efforts to maintain blood glucose levels with the help of the hormone insulin. Insulin transports glucose into body cells, allowing glucose to be taken up by the tissues.


When blood glucose is low, (e.g., due to insufficient food being eaten or long gaps between eating) your brain prompts the release of many chemicals which make you hungry and prompt eating to help raise glucose levels. Brain sensors will also prompt the release of stress hormones to help raise glucose levels which stimulate feeding, this can drive symptoms such as fatigue, low energy, stress, food cravings and stimulant desire and result in feeling stressed, irritable, depressed and tired.


So, you might ask how can we maintain a healthy weight, eat when hungry and stop when full? The answer in my opinion is we need to consider a structured regime where we obtain all the nutrients we need and stabilise blood sugar alongside insulin management to enable your body to work more optimally, burn more energy.


We can achieve this with some simple rules:-

· Eat regularly three meals a day or five smaller meals

· Choose whole foods (foods in their natural state) and cut down on sugary, high fat processed foods

· Eat plenty of vegetables and some fruit daily (remember, fruit is delicious but it does contain sugar)

· Include good fats such as oily fish, quality oils, avocado and some nuts and seeds

· Always eat breakfast – to break the fast and stabilise blood sugars

· Keep hydrated, 1600 ml a day is optimal with extra if exercising

· Cut down on stimulants, e.g., alcohol, caffeine, high sugar smoothies or fruit juices

· Exercise regularly but do not overdo it

· De-stress with relaxation methods, meditation, mindfulness, a long warm relaxing bath or a massage


Once this is achieved, I believe you will certainly start to feel more energised, feel less hunger and experience better mood. If this sounds somewhat daunting to put into practice, don’t ‘go it alone’…get in touch with someone who can give you the professional help you may need.

I am an Integrative therapist, which enables me to combine my different therapies when working with clients. My qualifications are Nutritional Therapist (Dip MBANT, CNHC) with eleven years of clinical practice, a BWRT Level 3 Practitioner (MIBWRT Acc.). BWRT is a fast effective form of psychotherapy, Clinical Hypnotherapist and a Master Practitioner of Eating Disorders (NCFED).


I can help you to provide structure to your eating, help you modify habits and alleviate stress and anxiety. I work online, and when I can safely do so, face to face from a friendly therapy room setting in Thorpe Bay, Essex. I offer a free no-obligation 30-minute initial phone consultation where we can discuss your needs and how I may help you.


Don’t delay, you can contact me on 077918004207 or hello@barbarasheadtherapies.co.uk.


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