Fighting Stress with Healthy Eating Habits


Francesca Powers RD, CDN: Fighting Stress with Healthy Eating Habits

As we enter into a new year, you may be striving to create different goals for your health and fitness. Many of us will watch what we eat. But more importantly, we must find out why we eat and how we eat. Stress remains a constant from year to year, month to month, day to day. We must learn how to fight our stress with healthy eating habits. That is one goal we can all work on, together.

Feeling worried? Anxious? Tired of all the hassle? Stress is inevitable and affects us all. We may experience routine stress through work or traumatic stress through a natural disaster. Believe it or not, there is good stress, too! Helping with wedding planning for your daughter? That’s good stress, or eustress.

Four out of every five people change their eating habits when feeling stressed. Of those, about half tend to eat more and half tend to eat less during times of stress. Acute stress may be more likely to cause us to eat less, whereas chronic stress may cause us to eat more, especially foods higher in fat and sugar content – we know these as “comfort foods.” No doubt, it is important to eat. After all, food gives us the energy and nutrients we need to survive. But when faced with chronic stress, and increasing your intake of comfort foods, this can contribute to developing obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and depression.

So, why do some of us eat less? It’s often due to having less time. We may skip meals and meal preparation to have more time available to dedicate to the stressor. We may eat less because our bodies response to acute stress is often to suppress our appetite. In addition, some people control their food intake when they find they cannot control a stressful situation. Instead of controlling food intake, why not take control of your health? All of you have already taken the most important step in declaring control of your health – you have joined this wonderful community of Wellness Glow Life!

Why do others eat more? In people who are chronically stressed, comfort foods such as sweets and fats can activate the brain’s “reward system.” The brain makes a connection between “feeling stressed” and “feeling better” after consuming comfort foods. The brain remembers that connection, which in-turn, increases the likelihood of using food as a coping mechanism, in the future.

If stress eating becomes a habit, there is increased risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heart attack and stroke. The first step in learning how to cope with stress, is recognizing what it is that is stressing you. How does it affect you? Not all ways to deal with stress are healthy. Find out what makes you smile. For me, it’s visiting a fruit stand on a bright, sunny day. Emotion-oriented coping involves finding ways to improve negative emotions associated with the problem. It is often used when the stress is outside a person’s control. There are positive and negative ways of dealing with this type of stress. A positive example would be meditation. A negative example would be eating comfort foods. If you are experiencing emotion-oriented coping, seeing a Registered Dietitian for nutrition counseling may help to understand what is causing the problem and ways to deal with it. Anyone who has concerns about their health and eating habits should consult with a Registered Dietitian for help.

Lastly, try to cope with stress by eating mindfully. Recognize that your eating habits are connected with stress and emotions by filling out a food diary. Listen to your hunger and satiety cues. Slow down when you eat and be free of distractions - really taste what you’re eating! This paired with the Glow Life Community will allow you to find enjoyment within each and every day, and truly shine. Stress-induced eating will no longer be cause for concern. I challenge you to start the new year off, not focused on what you eat, but why you eat.