Nutrition Special Feature: The Truth about Stress & Stress Eating with Tips to Help

December 14, 2020

2020 has definitely been a year of ups, and downs.  For many of us, these unforeseen challenges and disruptions in our normal lives have definitely created some additional stress.  Amongst women, we are seeing a rise in burnout rates as women are carrying an average of +15 more hours per week, while also managing blurred lines between work and personal lives, which can really put a strain on our overall stress load. 

I like to think of stress as a rubber-band, we are intended to have a relationship of pull, and retract when it comes to stress.  However, when the pull upon the rubber-band becomes too much, or continues to progressively pull beyond its limits for too long, we begin to see some disruptions in the metabolic reserve and physiological resilience.  These disruptions can account for various physiological symptoms to manifest such as: fatigue, increased allergies, difficulty with focus and memory, insomnia, mood changes, hormonal imbalances, development of an autoimmune disease, lack of “willpower” or motivation, weight fluctuations – either weight gain or weight loss, and/or increase in cravings for sugar, fats, carbohydrates, salty foods, caffeine and/or alcohol.

I often find that most of us can be unaware just how much stress is affecting our lives until we start seeing these physiological symptoms increase, or become unmanageable.  There can also be the misconception that things like weight gain, and lack of willpower are from needing to “push it harder” or “eat less”.  When in fact it is a signal from the body that there is an imbalance.  Finding where the imbalance is stemming from, is our goal.

When looking at stress, we note several important external signals that affect the stress response: mental/emotional, dietary/lifestyle factors, inflammation and circadian rhythm disruptions (sleep).  Addressing each individual’s specific imbalances will greatly support this process by supporting their own individual biochemistry, while also supporting the specific dietary and lifestyle changes that can help to heal their body.

What are some simple ways we can support ourselves when it comes to stress eating during times of heightened stress?

1. Slow it down: Take time to sit down to eat.  This process of slowing down to be present allows our bodies to shift the nervous system from sympathetic (flight-or-fight) to parasympathetic mode (rest and digest).  This allows the body to properly signal the release of necessary digestive hormones, which supports proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients.  For some of us, this may require some breathing techniques prior to meals to support this process of slowing down.

2. Chew your food: The simple act of properly chewing our food (30-50 chews per bite) can allow for the proper communication from the gut, to the brain, to signal satiety – or the sense of feeling full.

3. Learn to Eat Intuitively: Slowly learn to become more aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide dietary intake.  Learn to recognize ways in which we may be using food consumption to distract from, or suppress negative or positive emotions, including stress, sadness, anger, happiness, or boredom.  If emotions are too overwhelming, working with a counselor would be a great way to work through these feelings to best support your specific needs, and goals.

4. Keep Blood Sugar Balanced: Supporting blood sugar balance is one of the foundational pieces to supporting stress.  When our blood sugars fluctuate, it places further stress on our body, thus creating a cycle of blood sugar imbalance (diabetes, metabolic syndrome) that continues to signal a stress response to the brain.  Consuming well balanced meals, limiting simple carbohydrates (refined breads, starches, sweet drinks, cookies, cakes, etc.), and not skipping meals, can be a few ways to support this process.

These are a few simple habits we can consider during this extra busy holiday season.  If you feel like your stress is causing some of the physiological symptoms listed above we would love to support you to feel your best! 

Author: Angela Trotter, M.S., CNS, AFMCP, Clinical Functional Nutritionist

*Please Note: The information provided on or through this website or blog is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Engaging with this material does not constitute a client/therapist relationship*



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