Eating to Combat StressLast updated: Apr 03, 2013
When life and work overwhelm you, do you eat to relieve stress?
If you answered yes to this question, then you are likely a stress eater!
According to data from the American Psychological Association 2012 Stress in America Survey, adult participants suggest their stress levels rate approximately 5 on a 1 to 10 scale, with 10 being the highest stress level. Eighty percent of those surveyed suggest their stress levels have been constant or greater in the past year, and 20 percent of adults surveyed suggest their stress levels are as high as 10.1
Data from the survey show that top sources of stress include:
- Money and finances
- The economy
- Family responsibilities
- Family health problems
- Personal health concerns
Consistently high stress levels can negatively affect your physical and mental health. In addition to causing ongoing emotional strain, stress can affect you physically. For example, you might have experienced a fast heart beat, have problems sleeping, or have a bigger appetite when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Chronic stress also can wreak havoc with your immune system and make you more susceptible to illnesses such as colds and flu. It also can increase your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.2 According to the American Psychological Association survey, stress also causes people to sleep poorly, overeat, skip meals, and make unhealthy food choices.
A 2011 International Journal of Peptides article reports that people tend to eat more and choose high-fat, high-sugar foods when they are sad, depressed, or bored.3 Researchers believe hormones that increase desire for sugar and fat are partly to blame for unhealthy food choices and overeating.
Eating to Manage Stress
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, tense, and stressed, choose foods that are high in vitamins and minerals such as:
- Whole grain cereal with fruit
- Raisin toast with all-fruit jam
- Fresh fruit with plain yogurt
- Air-popped popcorn
- Fresh fruit with low-fat cottage cheese
- Baked apples
The Food and Mood Project, a nutrition research group in the United Kingdom, identified the following foods that increase stress levels:4
Based on their study, the researchers recommend drinking more water, eating more vegetables and fruit, and eating more omega-3-rich foods such as salmon and mackeral to help better manage stress.
In addition to moderate and healthy eating and drinking, the American Psychological Association survey suggests that regular exercise can help you better manage stress.1
Read more about how food can affect your mood and health!
1. Stress in America. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/index.aspx? Accessed March 26, 2013.
2. Mind/Body Health: Stress. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx Accessed March 27, 2013.
3. Diz-Chaves Y. Ghrelin, Appetite Regulation, and Food Reward: Interaction with Chronic Stress. Int J Pept. 2011; 2011: ID 898450.
4. The Food and Mood Project Survey. http://www.comfirst.org.uk/files/food_mood_survey_summary.pdf Accessed March 26, 2013.