Stress Eating: How Stress Can Make Us Overeat And What to Do About It
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Stress eating bringing you down?

It is no surprise that the more stressed we get, the worse our nutrition habits become.  Stress eating- how to stop

Stress makes finding the time and energy for meal planning, shopping and cooking harder. Stress and sleep deprivation also trigger physiological changes in our hormones that drastically influence cravings, food preferences and hinder achievement of your personal best weight.

Effect of stress on appetite

A short-term bout of stress initially triggers our brain to unleash a cascade of hormones Andrea Holwegner as published in Calgary Herald Newspaperthat shuts down appetite and the desire to eat. Chronic persistent stress, however, does just the opposite.

Persistent stress causes our adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol which increases appetite and influences overall motivation to eat.

Researchers have also determined that ongoing emotional or physical stress causes cravings for foods high in sugar or fat. These cravings are believed to happen as a result of not only high cortisol and insulin levels but also higher levels of the hunger hormone known as ghrelin.

5 stress busting nutrition tips

  1. Move from mindless to mindful

When we are stressed we go about our day on autopilot and can find ourselves mindlessly either under or over eating.

Taking one-minute mindful check-ins throughout the day and simply asking yourself, “what do I need?” sounds so basic but profoundly impacts both mental and physical health.

Short timeouts and slowing down allows us to assess if our hunger is a physical food need or if we are emotionally hungry.

  1. Clean up your environment

We often eat with our eyes instead of our stomachs (what I refer to as the “see-food diet”). When we are time strapped and distracted during times of stress this becomes even more likely.

Placing convenient healthy foods that you will see at home, work and in your vehicle is important. Place a colourful fruit bowl on your desk at work. Each week, place a large raw veggie and dip tray at the front of the fridge as the first things you see when you open the fridge.

Leave individual snack packs of dried fruit and nuts and water bottles in your car as quick grabs so you don’t arrive home “hangry.”

  1. Drink upglass of water

Our body is made up of approximately 50 percent water (our muscles are made up of about 70 percent water). This means if we are dehydrated we simply can’t function at our best.

I struggle to remember to drink enough fluids on busy days and had to implement some specific strategies to make sure I get enough.

I drink a glass of water first thing in the morning before I do anything and always sip fluids on the way home from work. I’ve also added accountability partners at work where everyone in my office knows they have full permission to bug me about water.

You may also want to consider a hydration app on your smartphone that will notify you to drink up. As a family we have also found purchasing a sparkling water machine has improved everyone’s hydration at home.

  1. Target your timing

When we are stressed, planning, packing and choosing healthy meals and snacks often falls apart. This may trigger impulsive food choices that are not the best for your health or alternatively skipping food entirely.

Depriving your body of adequate food during the day not only increases stress hormones but leads to worsened energy, poor concentration and may increase depression.

Eat every three to five hours (three meals and up to three snacks per day) to ensure you are fueling your brain and body with productive energy. Adding a bit of structure to your day is helpful during times of stress so that you don’t mindlessly munch all day and over-consume or alternatively fail to eat enough and end up bingeing in the evening.

  1. Combine carbs and protein

One of the most important aspects of effective energy and mood management to combat stress is to ensure you balance your meals and snacks with both carbohydrates AND protein.  One without the other has a negative impact on your overall energy.

Your brain runs exclusively on carbohydrates. While portion sizes of carbohydrate-rich foods such as grains, starches and sweets are important (since it is common for many people to overeat these items) you do not want a carb-free diet. Following a very low carbohydrate diet that skimps on grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits can lead to fatigue, depression, anxiety and poor long-term health.

Meals without protein simply do not keep you full and sustained with vital energy and can lead to frequent hunger and cravings.  Protein is found in foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, cheese, milk, yogurt, tofu, nuts, seeds and nut butter.  Make sure to have a source of protein with all your major meals and snacks to feel your best.

Article originally published in the Calgary Herald Newspaper

Need more Dietitian support for managing cravings and tackling stress eating?

Check out these previous articles on our blog by our team of Calgary Nutritionists / Online Dietitians:

How to navigate emotional eating

How to manage stress eating

Healthy eating meal and summer snack survival guide

Help for bingeing and binge eating disorder

How to break bad eating habits: Dietitian advice

One thing I’ve learned in my mindful eating journey…

You’ve heard of hangry but what about “hanxiety”?

How to manage sweets and treats without blowing your diet

Need more support from our Calgary Nutritionist / Online Dietitian team?

Contact us for help!

As Registered Dietitians that specialize in meal planning, weight concerns, emotional eating, eating disorders, digestive health, heart health, diabetes, pediatric nutrition and sports nutrition we can see you in our local Calgary Nutritionist office or as an Online Dietitian by phone or video conferencing for virtual nutrition counseling. Find out more about our Dietitian Nutrition Counseling Programs here.

Join the waiting list for our next Online Nutrition Course The Pursuit of Healthiness.

As university trained Registered Dietitians, you can count on us for credible advice and practical meal planning so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you. CONTACT US.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This