June 20, 2023

Avoid Eating Under Stress!

How stress negatively affects your eating habits and how to conquer stress-eating

Photo by Alex Green

Visit activeplantbased for professional help and plant-based nutrition training.

Stress definition

Stress, by biological definition, is the body’s natural response to challenging or life-changing events, and it is something we all experience.

There’s positive and negative stress called eustress and distress. While positive stress could be a deadline for creative homework that you actually enjoy doing can be helpful, negative and chronic stress can take a toll on our physical and mental well-being.

Usually, distress is accompanied by a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Naturally, distress has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and other illnesses, especially when chronic (ongoing over a prolonged period, typically > 3 months. Feeling constantly overwhelmed and under pressure can be a sign of chronic stress.

Additionally, distress can lead to bothersome symptoms like difficulty sleeping, headaches, tense muscles, digestive troubles, and, my personal favourite, overthinking and getting stuck in a spiral.

If you want to contribute to your overall health and well-being, you need to manage your stress effectively.

Stress and eating habits

Stress, in combination with food, leads to overeating, binge eating, and emotional eating, as well as poor diet choices such as consuming more sugary or processed foods.

Stress may also contribute to

  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty relaxing during meals
  • digestive issues
  • a lack of energy for physical activities
  • decreased interest in food

Stress and the nervous system

The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system.

Sympathetic NS: Fight or Flight

  • triggers a surge of adrenaline and other hormones that help you react quickly to a stressful situation.

Parasympathetic NS: Rest & Digest

  • regulates relaxation, digestion, and normal body processes. It helps to calm the body and restore it to a balanced state after stress has passed.

If you look at the functions listed above, you know they cannot possibly happen at the same time: For example, the sympathetic system can bring on a fast heart rate, whilst the parasympathetic system, during a resting period, will relax the heart rate.

Here is a blueprint for what to do after having eaten: Stay seated, just sit, really, don’t jump up, chill.

Chronic stress and eating

Most people experience changes in their eating habits when under chronic stress. Some tend to eat less, while others might consume more calories. Distress can drive cravings for high-calorie food, sugar, or fat content.

Emotional eating or stress eating refers to people consuming food even if they are not physically hungry or don’t need more calories.

Tips to minimise stress when eating

Alleviating stress factors is a good idea; maybe you can start with eating in peace and as stress-free as possible.

  • Eat slowly: The number one rule to stress-free eating. Savour each bite, chew thoroughly so that you’re able to properly understand what and how much you’re eating and stop when satisfied.
  • Give your hormones time to work: Specific hormones that tell you that you are satisfied set in approximately after 15 minutes, but if you wolf down your meal within 8 minutes, your body will tell your brain that your stomach is overly full by the time it is a bit too late.
  • Eat while seated: When standing up, your body releases adrenaline and other hormones, which can increase alertness. This is when the sympathetic system acts, making it difficult for your body to relax and prepare for digestion, leading to potential digestive issues.
  • Mindful eating: Engage with your meal and pay attention to the sensory experience of eating. Focus on the flavours, textures, temperature and aroma of your food.
  • Balanced meals: Include a variety of nutrient-rich foods for optimal bodily functioning. Aim for a balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Do not cut out one specific macronutrient like carb-free or fat-free. You need everything in balance.
  • Establish regular eating patterns: Irregular eating habits and prolonged periods with too much or without any food can contribute to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, which can affect mood and increase stress.
  • Intermittent fasting saves time: I personally skip breakfast. Not only does it save me time and stress, but it keeps the average person’s cells healthy as they are allowed to engage in autophagy and repair, besides other significant health benefits.
  • Meal Prep: Being prepared decreases the stress of having to quickly find a balanced meal. Plan your meals in advance and prepare wholesome meals and snacks. This will also help you avoid reaching for unhealthy options when you’re pressed for time or stressed, or simply don’t have the energy.
  • Incorporate regular physical activity, healthy eating habits, and relaxation techniques into your daily life for a well-rounded approach.
  • Say “no” to things that don’t add to your life to make up space for things that are more important: Like having the time to batch cook and eat mindfully.

Eating while stressed can harm both our physical and mental health. But there are ways to avoid this unhealthy habit.

Remember to listen to your body, identify stress triggers, and make conscious choices that nourish you, even in stressful times. Feel free to adjust so that tips and tricks fit your lifestyle.

Thank you for reading and supporting our love for vegan nutrition

If you want to know more about our nutrition programs, visit activeplantbased.

activeplantbased 🐇