Stress, anxiety, coffee, and refined sugar have profound physiological effects on us and are “the norm” in our society; in my opinion, it’s no wonder that overeating disorders are so common.
Given my anxiety and binge eating disorder past, I normally cut out coffee and refined sugars as they can be triggering. Against my better judgement, I made the mistake of drinking coffee and eating traditional desserts. Given the state I was already in, that led to stress eating, which lead to gaining fat + water weight in 1 week despite training 2-4 hours of Muay Thai per day.
This was not a binge eating episode, however the principles here apply to that as well.
Left: During stress eating week
Right: Before stress eating week. Don’t mind my RBF.
The differences here are not significant but there are noticeable. Way more noticeable in person and enough for one of my born, raised, & local Thai girlfriends to have thought and asked if I was on my period 😂 (Here’s the thing about traditional Asian culture: they’re very upfront about physical appearances. Matter-of-factly & blunt, sometimes unintentionally insulting, but most often truthful & without malice). I love my body in both; I look beautiful in both.
Pre-fight anxiety & increased training intensity
Intellectually, I had addressed my performance anxiety with my clinical counsellor and coach. However, I felt like my body was on edge.
Increased training intensity
The first week I started training twice a day was also the first week I came back from a 2 week break from the gym, during which I had gotten really sick. Precision Nutrition, lately my favourite training & nutrition online resource happened to post an article that week (#synchronicity) that mentioned how training is a form of stress.
Exercise is a stressor. Usually a good one. But a stressor nonetheless.
– Precision Nutrition, Training vs Straining
“In terms of a physical demand, we still need to help our bodies recover from all the stress we experience.
How well you’ll recover (and how much extra recovery you might need) depends on your allostatic load — i.e. how much total stress you’re under at any given moment.
In other words, on those days when you were late for work and your boss yelled at you and you spilled ketchup on your favorite shirt and you were up all night caring for a sick child — and then you went to the gym and tried to nail a PR?”
I don’t drink coffee. I drink caffeinated tea instead.
When I do drink coffee, I have one cup per day, and this triggers my anxiety highs & lows. I can drink caffeinated tea to no such effect. Given my pre-fight anxiety and bodily stress from increased training intensity, these highs & lows were magnified.
It felt like a bender. I had mood swings and insomnia. I’d get a surge of energy & focus and then I’d lose it. I found myself spending hours in the dark YouTube rabbit hole of tragedy & conspiracy news, reality TV, and psychology. I love psychology videos (& it’s cousin, the intellectual dark web) and do enjoy the occasional visit down the rabbit hole, but would have appreciated these topics more if I didn’t consume so much of it continuously, unable to sleep, while worried and wondering if I was somehow mentally spiralling because I didn’t know at the time why I was stress eating.
It’s not about coffee specifically; it’s about cortisol. Cortisol is a naturally occurring stress hormone that can reach unhealthy levels in certain individuals. For those of us who are stressed out, worried, or anxious, chances are that our cortisol levels are elevated and stay elevated through out the day. This is exacerbated by coffee.
Cortisol makes it hard to lose fat or maintain weight for two reasons:
- Causes body to retain & store fat, especially in the lower abdomen
- Revs up appetite for high carb & high fat
I don’t do refined sugar or treats. I use natural sweeteners, bake paleo treats & goodies, or have “natural desserts”.
I do not track calories or macros. I eat paleo-based, cook with whole foods, and eat intuitively to satiety through balancing protein, healthy fats, fibre, and greens. I eat for longevity, glowing skin, and to nourish my body to perform as an athlete.
Refined sugar isn’t simply a matter of calories; it’s a matter of addictiveness & cravings
It all started at one of my favourite restaurants and I thought I’d treat myself to a brownie since I was training so much. After that I had one of those desserts almost every day that week.
I’ve learned that unless it’s my vegan paleo brownies, traditional desserts do not work for me and my body.
Let me be clear: it’s not that coffee & refined sugar alone caused me to gain weight in a matter of 1 week; it’s that it set off a my appetite for a massive sweet tooth, especially at night. This addictive quality is what created such an urge to eat highly palatable high carb & high fat foods, given that I was already experiencing stress & anxiety.
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I can and do eat a lot of unprocessed/unrefined carbs and they don’t have the same effect on my appetite as refined sugar does.
My favourite natural sweeteners
- Maple Syrup
My favourite “natural desserts”
- Chia pudding
- My vegan paleo brownies (recipe coming!)
- Fruit (bonus: fruit topped with unsweetened coconut milk + cinnamon — I’m all about this since picking up it up from local Thai cuisine!)
I’m back on track! Thriving off whole foods & tea
I will be sharing all my recipes (+simple meals that I put together without a kitchen!) as well as my coffee-free latte!
As I share my experiences, I’ve been blessed to have people reach out to me and I realize that overeating is something so many of us struggle with, and many are in a binge-restrict cycle or disheartened from simply not seeing results from putting in hard effort into traditional dieting methods.
Living with stress and anxiety can make consistency very difficult if you are consuming caffeine and refined sugar. They can throw us off our habits due to their addictive qualities and the increased cortisol & appetite.
This is why I talk about mental health & sustainable eating in my content: your deserve to thrive. Understand that your mind, body, and soul are truly all deeply connected; that your day-to-day habits create a feedback loop, cycle, and system that influences how you see food & behave.
Once you are in alignment with habits in a positive cycle that allow you to thrive, consistency will feel effortless.