Is Stress Sabotaging Your Diet?

February 5, 2019

How Stress Affects Your Nutrition And What You Can Do About It

One of the most commons things I hear from people trying to lose weight is that their stress gets in the way of eating healthy food and exercising. We all get stressed sometimes. Whether its work, kids, or a million other things going on in our lives, it can be easy to let our healthy habits slip down the priority list. Oftentimes we know what we should do, but then stress takes up the time and energy needed to actually implement those healthy habits. Here are a few ways in which stress can affect your health and nutrition, and a few ways to minimize that impact in the future!

Nutrition and Stress: How Does Stress Change Nutrition Habits?


Skipping Meals and Water:

When you have a ton of things going on, it can be easy to forget to eat or make stopping to have a meal low on your priority list. Skipping meals and not eating enough can be just as detrimental to your health and weight loss as eating too much! When you don’t eat enough, your body goes into starvation mode and your metabolism slows down. This causes your body to hold on to everything you feed it.  Skipping meals can also cause fatigues, mood swings, and strong cravings. Plus, when you skip a meal, you are often starving by the next meal and end up overeating.


Mindless Eating

woman eating on the street

Stress can also cause you to eat when you aren’t hungry. In those situations, you tend to eat in order to comfort yourself, rather than to satisfy any hunger. In these instances “comfort foods” are normally chosen, like sweets and salty snacks. Think about the image that we have always seen a girl crying on the couch with a pint of ice cream. This is a great example of using food as comfort.


Quick Fixes

Fast food burger

Oftentimes when you’re stressed, you also feel like you don’t have enough time. You might feel like you don’t even have enough time to shower, let alone cook a healthy meal. Because of this, it can be easy to grab for fast food or high sugar and fat packaged products.


Increased Cortisol

When you are stressed, there is an increased amount of the “stress hormone” Cortisol released in the body. When there is excess Cortisol released, it can increase heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and it can even affect digestion. In addition to these effects, it can also cause an increase in cravings for high sugar, high fat, or salty foods. These cravings, paired with lack of time and mindless eating can cause overeating of these “comfort foods”.


Lack of Sleep

Sometimes with increased stress comes decreased sleep. While it might not seem like a big deal to get a few fewer hours of sleep per night, sleep can have a huge impact on your hormones, appetite, and digestion. Plus, when you don’t get enough sleep you are more easily fatigued and may find it harder to concentrate during the day. This paired with the stress you are already dealing with can really escalate the symptoms of stress.


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How to Combat Stress and Poor Nutrition

Tip #1: Plan Ahead And Prepare Your Meals

Prepared food dishes

While planning meals might sound like extra work, setting aside a little bit of time on your day off to plan or prep your meals will save you a lot of time and hassle during the week. When you know you have healthy food readily available it makes it a lot easier to reach for that food, rather than the typical comfort foods. Also, when you pack your lunches and snacks you can easily heat them up or eat them in just a few minutes. You are less likely to skip meals since there is not a lot of work involved with that particular meal. Making sure you have those meals and snacks readily available will keep you more energized and able to focus on the task at hand.


Tip #2: Carry a Water Bottle

Man drinking water in bottle

Carrying a water bottle with you is a simple way to make sure you get enough water throughout the day. Staying well hydrated will help keep you energized and avoid headaches or thirst that can disguise itself as hunger. Making sure to keep a water bottle with you will keep water on your mind throughout the day.


Tip #3: Find Healthy Alternatives

food alternatives

Since it is natural to crave more high sugar, high-fat foods while stressed, find some healthy alternatives that you enjoy.  Try using fruit or dark chocolate to curb a sweet tooth. Also, try making some lower sugar or fat versions of your favorite comfort foods to satisfy those cravings. Combine this with your planning ahead skills to not only save time and stress but also calories in the long run!


Tip #4: Get Enough Sleep

Improve sleep to mitigate stress

Making sure you get enough sleep can make a huge difference in your mood, appetite, and digestion. Sleep can escalate the cravings and increased appetite you are already feeling from stress. Getting enough sleep will keep you focused throughout the day and be more in control of your hunger and appetite. Set a bedtime for yourself and allow about 30 minutes beforehand to unwind and distress. This will help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.


Tip #5: Find New Forms Of Stress Relief

Massage and wellness for stress reduction

The most important part of staying healthy while stressed in finding ways to relieve your stress that don’t involve food. Try going for a walk, reading a book, treating yourself to a massage, or even just spending some time alone. Try a few different types of stress relief until you discover one that works for you! Finding stress relief that doesn’t involve food will help you avoid stress eating in the future.

So whether it’s over or under eating, stress can play a huge role in your diet.  Finding new forms of stress relief and being mindful of physical versus emotional hunger are two very important steps to avoiding stress and emotional eating. Learning new ways to cope with that stress can make things much easier in the long run!

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