How to Stress Eat, Better

stress eating

You’re running low on energy and need a quick fix; you grab a high fat, sugar-packed “energy bar” without thinking twice and polish it off before you even realize. The hormones released from stress likely led you to make the impulsive, unhealthy emotional eating habit that will eventually backfire by leading to an energy crash and hunger pit come dinnertime. When your stress levels takes over, vicious cycles such as the energy bar episode come with detrimental consequences in both the short and long term. But luckily, a simple shift in decision making while under stress can lead you to more energy and better overall healthy habits and food choices. 

In the short term, stress causes a hormone release from the brain that shuts down appetite, which can cause a crash and burn if you ignore your symptoms and do not properly re-fuel through food. In the long term, stress causes the release of cortisol that increases appetite and the motivation to eat. Studies have shown that due to the release of cortisol in combination with high insulin levels, the body tends to crave foods that are high in fat, sugar, or both; all things that hinder our daily wellbeing the most.

The foods that we eat give energy to our body and therefore affect how we feel throughout the entire day (and night!).

Stress Eating Impacts Fertility and Lactation

We all experience stressful situations in our lives, but it’s how you handle it that matters most. To cope, some of us take on stress eating, overeating, weight gain, some of us under eat, some turn to alcohol or smoking, and some of us try to ignore the problem and use no form of relief or stress management. You need to manage your stress to manage your health and live more meaningfully. To do so, have your go-to healthy eating strategies ready at all times when your stress eating habit strikes! And if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, maintaining a healthy diet and mindful eating is extremely important.

The healthy foods that we eat give energy to our body and therefore affect how we feel throughout the entire day (and night!). If you’re not eating the right foods, and your energy levels are continually low, or you’re dieting or limiting calories during this important time, you’re basically being starved of the elements your body needs to function at it’s full potential. This can negatively impact fertility, pregnancy and breast milk supply.

Foods to Focus On

Focus on increasing immune system enhancing nutrients and levels of cortisol-reducing foods. Food close to its original state is the best way to heal, nourish and repair quickly. Omega 3 fatty acids found in foods like wild salmon are known to have a calming effect on the nervous system and help reduce mental stress, inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Red bell peppers, oranges and dark leafy greens are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, which help lower cortisol. L-theanine is an essential nutrient found almost exclusively in unsweetened green tea.  It is known to promote relaxation without feeling drowsy, and contains less caffeine than coffee and espresso.  Dairy products, especially grass fed organic cheeses, are rich in glutamine; an amino acid found in our muscle cells and are important because it helps preserve muscle mass by managing cortisol levels.

If you can challenge yourself to get your daily dose of fresh green vegetables and fruits, at the very least 3-4 servings total, you’re off to a good start. I begin most days with a green smoothie. To complement, I enjoy a hot tea chock full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients like turmeric and ginger.  Lunch and dinner should also be nutrient rich and filled with lean proteins and healthy fats. You’ll find plenty of pasture raised eggs, beans, lentils, chicken, wild fish, and copious amounts of avocado on my plate! Throughout the day, try to incorporate healthy snacks if you get hungry, rather than leaning towards comfort foods, junk foods or any bad food cravings you may be having. 

Bottom line, the foods we consume can’t magically make stress disappear. But there is a very strong connection between food and mood, and how we function on a day-to-day basis.

My secret stress-kicking recipes:

Golden Turmeric Tea 

(also known to boost milk supply for breastfeeding moms!)

  • Unsweetened plant-based milk – 1 cup
  • Turmeric – 1 tbsp
  • Cinnamon – 1 tbsp
  • Fresh ginger – 1 tbsp
  • Dash of organic vanilla extract
  • Organic Honey – 1 Tbsp

*Mix well and heat on stove stop or in milk steamer

Berry Green Smoothie

  • 1.5 cups coconut water or plant-based milk
  • 2 big handfuls of green (kale, spinach, chard, etc.)
  • handful of raw oats
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 2 TBL flax seed
  • 1 scoop vegan vanilla protein powder (I love Juice Plus Complete)

*Blend and enjoy!

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