Stress and Cravings

by Jeannine Re McNamarra
Senior Regional Clinical Manager

Have you noticed that during times of stress, you tend to choose unhealthy foods? Have you ever asked yourself why?

When we are chronically stressed, we have higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands during stress and may contribute to an increased appetite (1). Many people find that they reach for sweet, salty, or fatty foods when they are stressed. This may be because these types of foods are associated with a “comfort” response in our brain. They are also a quick source of energy – and elevated cortisol levels can trigger a desire for immediate fuel.

However, continually reaching for high fat, high sugar, and salty foods can hurt your health. It can contribute to excess weight gain, elevated insulin and glucose levels, and high blood pressure. Poor food choices, skipping meals, inadequate rest, and prolonged stress can also depress your immune system, and increase the likelihood of becoming sick frequently. If you are ready to break this vicious cycle, then try these tips for eating healthy and keeping your stress levels under control.

1. Start the day with a balanced breakfast that includes lean protein, a high fiber carbohydrate, such as oatmeal, fruit, high fiber toast or cereal, and some healthy fat nuts, avocado, eggs. (2). A balanced breakfast can help you maintain steady blood sugar levels, avoid hunger pangs and cravings for sweets mid-morning, and maintain your energy and concentration until lunchtime.

2. Schedule time for a lunch break – even if only 20-30 minutes! Taking time to eat a balanced meal and paying attention to your meal gives you a mental break from work during the day. It enables you to eat mindfully, enjoy your meal, and experience a greater sense of satiety. A scheduled break can help prevent mindless snacking later on in the afternoon.

3. If caffeine makes you jittery and nervous, or if you have trouble sleeping at night, try gradually reducing your caffeine intake. Enjoy your morning coffee, if you drink coffee in the morning. If you like coffee in the afternoon, try substituting it with decaffeinated green tea, which contains antioxidants, or flavored water or seltzer as your mid-afternoon drink of choice.

4. Hydrate! Inadequate fluid intake can cause headaches and impaired concentration. You may also mistake thirst for hunger and reach for a snack when, in reality, you may be thirsty. The National Academies of Medicine recommends 11.5 cups of day (2.7 liters) for women and approximately 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men per day. If you exercise, then you will need more water! Try seltzer or flavored water if you don’t like the test of plain water.

Wellness Tip:
Keep track of how much water you drink over the next two days. Are you drinking enough? If not, try having 12 ounces first thing in the morning before breakfast, and then another 12 ounces between each meal. See if you can meet the recommendations by the end of the week!

References:
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat
Weight Management Online – Amwell. https://amwell.com/cm/conditions/weight-management/

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