Stress & Food

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español

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Girl works at a computer and eats unhealthy food. Stress is a common problem in most modern societies. Whether it stems from the daily demands of work and family, economic pressures, or political and social conflicts, stress affects all of us. For those facing food insecurity (lack of enough food) or nutrition insecurity (lack of nutritionally dense food), stress can be compounded exponentially.

In January of this year, I started a series of articles based on the Eat Smart Move More core behaviors for improving overall health. Each monthly article has provided strategies for implementing specific core behaviors. Topics have included eating less processed foods and more whole foods, increasing water intake, moving more and sitting less, and getting enough sleep. In this sixth and final article of the series, our topic is managing stress and understanding its effect on physical health.

The connection between stress and food is well documented. During times of stress, the hormone cortisol is secreted resulting in higher levels of insulin in the body. Stress causes changes to hunger and satiety hormones which can trigger overeating and lead to weight gain. Changes in gut microbiome can also occur. Stress makes the body crave foods high in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, and sugars and consuming too much of these foods over time inflicts even greater stress on the body. It is a cycle that can be challenging to break.

With a healthy eating plan accompanied with effective stress management practices, one can reduce the likelihood of stress-related illnesses. There are many techniques for reducing stress from deep breathing and meditation to diet and exercise. Taking time to think through your daily routine gives you an opportunity to also think about incorporating healthy core behaviors into each day. Stretch every day. Walk every day. Drink more water and get enough good sleep. Plan and prepare a healthy meal, then slow down and enjoy dinner. It is often the small steps toward healthy living that make the biggest impact.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of articles on healthy core behaviors. If you missed any, you can find them under Health & Nutrition.