How to Manage Stress Eating Print

Breaking down the challenges and solutions to stress eating

CTV Morning NewsStress eating is a big challenge for many of the clients we see in our nutrition counselling practice. Stress not only changes our appetite regulation hormones but also can trigger emotional overeating as well as our everyday food habits for what, when and how much we eat.

Watch Andrea Holwegner address stress eating:

How does stress influence appetite hormones?

How to Manage Stress Eating: assorted snacks, stress eating ideas

Short term bout of stress:

  • Initially triggers our brain to unleash a cascade of hormones that shuts down appetite and lessens the desire to eat.

Chronic persistent stress:

  • Stress and sleep deprivation trigger a range of physiological changes including higher levels of 3 hormones:
  1. insulin (blood sugar regulation hormone)
  2. ghrelin (hunger hormone)
  3. cortisol (stress hormone)

These hormone changes together can:

  • increase appetite and overall motivation to eat  
  • food cravings for foods high in sugar or fat
  • weight gain or an inability to lose weight if overweight
  • increase the risk of other health issues such as diabetes and heart disease

Nutrition Expert Andrea Holwegner: How To Manage Stress Eating

How might stress influence eating habits?

Here are 10 ways stress may change your food intake:

  1. Time and energy for meal planning, shopping and cooking often sacrificed.
  2. Hard to establish critical routines and habits necessary for health.
  3. Difficult to plan ahead, be proactive and be positively motivated
  4. More likely to impulse-buy or grab convenient foods that may not be healthy.
  5. May lead to meal or snack skipping and sporadic eating.
  6. Mindless grazing without realizing what, when or how much you are eating.
  7. Inability to eat intuitively to honor your hunger and trust fullness cues.
  8. Emotional overeating to stuff uncomfortable feelings.
  9. Undereating in the day, triggering overeating at night.
  10. Increased speed of eating making it difficult to be mindful and respecting your body.

What can I do to help stress eating?

The solutions to address stress eating are as diverse as the reasons you are stressed in the first place.  To begin exploring some solutions here are 3 tips that can really make a difference to feeling better about your eating habits during stressful times. 

  1. Hone in your hunger

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 physicHow to Manage Stress Eating: 3 kinds of hunger al health.

Different types of hunger have different types of need.  Short timeouts and slowing down allows us to assess if our hunger is one of the following (as defined by Craving Change (a cognitive-behavioural intervention for problematic eating).

  • Stomach hunger (physical or medical necessity to eat)
  • Mouth hunger (craving related to the senses)
  • Heart hunger (emotional trigger or learned behavior)

Use a timer on your phone or goal or habit formation app such as Strides free app that can send you a reminder prompt to check-in on your food and hydration needs throughout your day.

Working with a Registered Psychologist and Registered Dietitian that specializes in emotional eating and eating disorders is your best bet to tackle solutions for stress eating and stomach, mouth and heart hunger.  For more reading on this topic check out my newspaper column: Breaking the Habit of Nighttime Snacking and dealing with different types of hunger

How to Manage Stress Eating

2. 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”.

3. Target balance

Eat every 3-5 hours (3 meals and up to 3 snacks per day) to ensure you are fuelling your brain How to Manage Stress Eatingand 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.

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.

If you need help managing stress eating, or want to learn more about balancing protein and carbohydrates in your daily life, contact us about Nutritional Counselling Programs.How to Manage Stress Eating: Nutrition Expert Andrea Holwegner on CTV

About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

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. Andrea and her team 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. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. 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

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