What’s the best way to take on stress at home and work? By following these four tips, you’re ready to take on the day while maintaining a healthy diet.

1. Anticipate the Possible.

You may have little control over your day, but even if you can’t dictate events, you can game plan for them by arriving early and prioritizing tasks so you’re not overwhelmed no matter how work unfolds. Be ready with quick action steps if someone or something throws you off kilter. (For starters, take a deep breath!) As to food, dietitians recommend eating every two to four hours. Although it may be difficult to plan lunch and snack breaks amidst all the fires you’re putting out, you need to adhere to something reasonable so you’re not starved for blood sugar. For a quick pick-me-up, stash a protein bar in your pocket to munch in a pinch. “You don’t want to starve yourself since that’s when your willpower breaks down,” says Torey Armul, MS, RDN, CSSD, national spokesman for the Chicago-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That’s what leads to stress eating.”

2. Keep it Homemade.

Packing your own lunch and snacks is the easiest way to control what you eat because you also control the ingredients. By prepping at home, you’re not only able to select nutritious options, but also avoid the extra salt, butter, and trans fats that make purchased foods so tasty. Also, think color! With a mix of items on your plate you ensure an array of nutrients. If you still frequent the cafeteria, scan your options before diving in, especially on a stressful day. “If you go with your gut you’re more likely to choose fattier foods,” says Angel C. Planells, MS, RDN, the owner of ACP Nutrition in Seattle. “That’s not a problem if it’s one time, but if it becomes a habit, it will ultimately take its toll.”

3. Rev Your Engine With Carbs.

Since carbohydrates influence the dopamine-seratonin ratio in your brain the last thing you want to do is to restrict your daily intake of those quality foods that supply them. Doing so only depletes your energy and the very neurotransmitters that help you feel good. To keep those levels optimal, however, you should devote at least 45% of your diet (65% if you’re more active) to those healthy carbohydrates abundantly available in whole grains, green vegetables, fruits, dairy, and even some pastas and breads, says Joey Gochnour, BS, BS, MEd, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT, a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and certified personal trainer for RecSports at the University of Texas at Austin. (Just keep the high sugars at a minimum.) What’s more, make sure you spread them throughout the day so that you’re not craving by the end of it.

4. Drink, Drink, and Drink.

Although you need a balanced diet to stay mentally and physically on top of your game, you also need water. Your body simply can’t function effectively if you’re not hydrating it. In fact, being dehydrated, nutritionists suggest, is a number one stress trigger. For starters, by denying your body the fluid it needs you’re facilitating the increase of cortisol. Conversely, a steady intake of water not only controls the hormone, but in doing so also helps keep blood sugar consistent, which steadies the appetite. Although 64 ounces a day is recommended, your body may need more, depending on the demands of your life. So think of eight eight-ounce glasses of water—with no sugar or artificial sweeteners added—as a daily starting point. “It will change your life,” says Charlotte Hammond, MS, RD, LDN, RYT, a Chicago-based registered dietitian. “It’s a win-win for energy and stress.”

Chris Hinz

Chris Hinz is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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