How Poor Nutrition Contributes To Stress

August 17, 2022

It is no secret that when people are stressed, they are more likely to make poor eating choices. Stress can leave many people unmotivated to prepare certain foods or can increase cravings for comfort food (most of which is not healthy). However, it turns out that poor nutritional choices can also lead to increased stress levels. This vicious cycle is easy to get into but hard to escape.

How Does Poor Nutrition Lead to Stress?

To understand the effect nutrition has on stress, it is essential to understand the human body's three responses to stress. The first physical symptom of stress is involuntary, a person may notice their blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate suddenly spikes due to the nervous system suddenly going on high alert. This is known as the fight or flight response.

Soon after, the body releases adrenaline, which supplies a boost of energy and leads to a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure so that the body can better handle its new heightened alarm state. Finally, if the stressor is not removed, the body will release cortisol, another hormone that stimulates glucose release and results in specific body systems turning off so the body can instead focus on the stress response.

What Does This Have to Do With Eating?

Well, it turns out that foods rich in trans fats and saturated fats also prompt your body to release high cortisol levels. Therefore, simply by eating comfort or junk food, you can fool your body into thinking it is in the third stage of a stressful event. The result is that instead of soothing you, the food you crave is actually making your body more physically stressed.

Since cortisol shuts down the body's reproductive, digestive, and growth systems, you will gain weight and experience other unwelcome side effects if you remain stuck in the endless cycle of stress and poor eating choices.

High levels of continual stress have been linked to:

  • Weight gain

  • Chest pain/heart disease

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Skin conditions

  • Depression

  • Infertility

  • Insomnia

  • Immune system issues

In addition, it is essential to note that while your body is in a stage of chronic stress, it has different metabolic needs so that you won't absorb food and nutrients the same way. Unhealthy nutritional choices will exacerbate this issue, and you may end up with significant vitamin deficiencies.

Tips to Break the Chronic Stress & Poor Nutrition Cycle

It can be hard to break the vicious cycle of stress eating, but a few methods have proven effective for many people. Here are just a few tips that can help you break the cycle and improve your health:

  • Keep healthy snacks in the house

  • Give yourself a hunger reality check (are you really hungry or just avoiding something?)

  • Reduce external stressors if possible

  • Keep a food diary

  • Don't restrict your diet

  • Stay busy (boredom makes it easy to stress eat)

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