Eating and Stress

September 28, 2020 | Jody Gatewood

I’m so stressed! I need chocolate!

Last week we started our series on stress and discussed in general how stress affects the body. Today, the focus is how stress affects eating habits.

With many of us experiencing higher levels of stress the past few months, you may have noticed that your eating habits have changed. I know at my house, we have had more chips and ice cream in the house than we normally do.

Stress can cause both a loss of appetite and also overeating. Studies show that in the short term stress tends to shut down appetite. The nervous system causes the body to release a hormone called adrenaline which helps trigger the body’s fight or flight response and temporarily puts eating on hold.

However, if the stress continues, the body releases another hormone called cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol increases the appetite and may ramp up the motivation to eat.

Stress also affects food preferences. The higher levels of cortisol increases cravings for sugary, salty, and fatty foods. Now you know why there are more chips and ice cream in my house!

Here are some tips to help manage the effects stress has on your eating habits:

  1. Know that it’s okay to eat sugary, salty, and fatty foods sometimes. Having something like chips or ice cream now and then will not ruin your health. So don’t stress out about eating them!
  2. Plan ahead for meals and snacks. This way you will have healthier options on hand for snacking and meal time. Keeping yourself nourished during times of stress helps keep your blood sugar steady so when you are stressed your emotions aren’t further effected by being hungry or having low blood sugar. Check out our meal planner and recipes for ideas.
  3. Be mindful when you are eating. Put your phone down, turn off the TV, and move away from your computer so you are not distracted. When at home, get in the habit of eating in the kitchen and not in other rooms in the house. Mindless eating can lead to eating more than your body needs and not enjoying the food you are eating.
  4. Get moving. While cortisol levels vary depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, overall exercise can reduce some of the negative effects of stress.

If you are feeling stressed, consider how you might use these tips to care for your body.

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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