How Does Stress Affect Your Diet?

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Exercise, Weight Loss | 0 comments

Let’s face it, stress is part of everyday life. But, if your diet changes in response to stress, you may see more fluctuations in blood sugars and weigh-ins than usual. These fluctuations can cause damage to the body and may make you ill.

Stress affects everyone differently. Too much stress may cause you to:

  • Skip meals or overeat at meals, leading to poor blood sugar control (highs and lows).
  • Eat even though you’re not hungry.
  • Eat in response to negative emotions (anxiety, boredom).
  • Make poor food choices (sweets, fast food, high-calorie snacks); increased calorie intake leads to weight gain.
  • Consume excessive amounts of sodium or alcohol, contributing to high blood pressure.

Is stress getting to you? Perform a personal assessment of your nutrition-related stressors, identifying the cause and your reaction. Do you turn to food when you are feeling anxious, angry, or sad? Do you stop packing your lunch, eat more snack foods, or dine out more often when you feel overwhelmed? If your initial reaction to stress is to grab high-calorie foods that can impact your blood sugar levels and take you over your daily calorie goal, then you are allowing stress to affect your diet.

Sometimes you may not even be aware that you are eating as a reaction to stress. When you’re preoccupied with stressful issues, it’s easy to zone out on other aspects of your life. That’s when you might catch yourself snacking in front of the television. This is referred to as “mindless eating,” and it can sabotage your weight-loss efforts.

Mindless eating is just that, eating without putting much thought into what and how much you consume. Instead of measuring out a single serving of chips for which you can calculate the fat, salt, and calories, you munch directly out of the bag. The result is overeating and not knowing how many calories you consumed. That’s why staying aware of your foods and sticking with appropriate portions are vital to losing weight.

Conquering Stress

The good news is you can teach yourself to react to stress in a healthier fashion. Use the challenge-solving process demonstrated in the following example to improve your reaction to stress.


Step 1: Steve works in customer service, often assisting angry customers. When he leaves work, he has trouble winding down. He doesn’t feel like cooking and stops at a fast-food restaurant or makes a meal of chips and ice cream. He wants to work on his reaction to his job stress because he knows it’s affecting his health.

Step 2: Steve brainstormed these possible solutions:

  • Planning meals ahead of time.
  • Stocking the kitchen with easy-to-prepare foods.
  • Cooking meals on the weekend and refrigerating them for easy weeknight heat-ups.
  • Buying prepared meals.
  • Keeping tempting foods, such as ice cream and chips, out of the house.

Step 3: Steve decides that using simple ideas for meal preparation will help him eat at home more often. He stocks her kitchen with easy-to-prepare, healthy foods along with healthy, prepared frozen meals.

Step 4: Steve found that focusing on preparing a meal actually helped take his mind off the stress he was feeling after work. Plus, he felt better eating home-cooked meals because he had more control over the ingredients and serving sizes than when he ate meals high in fat and refined carbohydrates.

Step 5: After a few weeks of eating balanced meals, such as baked chicken, a baked sweet potato, and steamed vegetables, Steve started to get bored. To increase variety, he set a new goal to cook larger meals on the weekends so he would have leftovers to eat during the week.

Steve overcame her stress-eating challenge using the challenge-solving process: Brainstorming possible solutions to overcome her challenge; selecting a goal to act on; then evaluating how he was doing and setting new goals if needed. If you feel like stress is affecting your diet in a negative way, try using this method to work through your challenge.

To help prevent “stress-eating,” incorporate these strategies into your everyday lifestyle:

  • Reduce intake of caffeinated beverages.
  • Consume complex carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, legumes, and vegetables).
  • Eat foods containing tryptophan, an amino acid that induces feelings of relaxation. It’s found in nuts, oats, and dairy products.
  • Consume fruits, vegetables, and fatty fish (salmon and tuna) for helpful vitamins and minerals.
  • Eat meals and snacks at regular times; avoid “grazing” between meals.
  • Plan meals ahead of time as much as possible.
  • Limit alcoholic beverages and smoking.
  • Exercise to eliminate stress and burn calories.
  • Weigh in on the same day at approximately the same time each week so you have a more accurate gauge of progress (or setbacks).

And, don’t forget your weekly weigh-in!!


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