Original post : June 5, 2012

Stress and Eating

Stress and Eating


Stress affects us all in different ways –

but why is it important that we understand what it does to our bodies?


When we are suffering from acute stress, our bodies may react with physiological changes.  Some of these may be:


  • Slow gastric emptying
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Decreased blood flow to non-essential organs, i.e. to the digestive system


To overcome symptoms of stress it is common to increase behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption and eating.

What is it that encourages us to eat more?  Research has shown that we crave foods higher in fat and sugar when stressed, and therefore as a consequence we gain weight, that will in turn makes us more stressed.

The chronic stress response network

The way the body deals with stress has been shown to be in part due to the emotional side of the brain and the levels of the circulating hormone cortisol.   In terms of encouraging us to eat more, it is thought the hormones such as cortisol, neurorpeptide Y and leptin are responsible. 

How does Cortisol work?

Cortisol is a stress hormone and in times of stress of it is released.  In terms of performing a speech in public this works well for the body as it gets us to operate at our peak.  However what is detrimental for the body is prolonged stress when the cortisol levels stay high.

What foods are we attracted to?

Current research is showing that it is high energy foods, high in fat and sugar, that are eaten when stressed. Examples of high energy foods are: cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and sweets. 


Ways to help with stress levels and to eat healthier

Have breakfast:

All to often breakfast is either a missed or rushed meal.  It may be a cliché but breakfast is the most important meal of the day: it sets us up for the day, resets our metabolism and gets us going.  It is important to spend time in the morning for yourself and have a quiet time to start the day.

Make sure enough water is drunk throughout the day – keep hydrated

Try not to mindlessly munch – if you feel that you might be tempted, buy healthy snacks – fruit, nuts and raisins.

 Get away from you desk at lunch time

Go for a walk and get some fresh air, even if it is only for 10 minutes.

Be prepared for the evening meal

  • Cooking can be a relaxing hobby, but you have to be prepared and have the right ingredients.
  • Have a cooking session at the beginning of the week and cook for the week
  • Buy a slow cooker – so dinner is ready for you when you get home.
  • Knowing what you are going to eat in the evening, will stop you buying fast or processed food and eating those unwanted calories


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