How, When and What you Eat can Affect Stress Levels

We all know that what we eat has a huge impact on our health, wellbeing and mood.  However, you may not be so aware that when we eat and how we eat also has an effect. 

Stress can affect your appetite in two ways.  Initially it will shut down your appetite as your brain reacts to stress by releasing hormones which supress appetite, at the same time as releasing adrenaline which triggers the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response which also supresses appetite. 

However, if you’ve been soaking up the stress over a prolonged period of time, your brain starts to produce the cortisol hormone which increases appetite and the motivation to eat.  In addition to this, it is thought that stress affects food preferences and results in an increase intake of foods high in fat and/or sugar that actually supress stress related emotions in the short term – ergo comfort eating to counteract stress. 

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Stress also causes us to reach for caffeine or sugary ‘energy’ drinks, and often alcohol.  The knock on effect of these is lack of sleep, low energy and weight increase, note that one bottle of wine contains almost 650 calories  that are mainly derived from sugar.

Eating a balanced nutritional meal with slow release of sugars will stabilise your energy and insulin levels as well and help you get through to the next meal.  However, if you are stressed, you are more likely to snack on the run with convenience foods that are highly processed, fatty and often sugary which will result in a spike in insulin and you’ll be hungry again before you know it.  If you only have time for a snack, try to eat fruit or nuts, bananas and apples are great for soaking up stress, as are almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts, all easier to eat and very good for stabilizing the brain. 

How you eat will have an impact on your stress levels.  Breakfast is a very important meal to set you up for the day, if you’re not a breakfast person, try to add bananas to your repertoire, it’s such an easy fruit to eat on the go, or pack a yoghurt in your bag.  If you can face it in the morning, oats in the form of muesli, granola or porridge are excellent; otherwise the humble boiled egg and toast is a great way to eat proteins and carbohydrates which is the best way to balance blood sugar levels and calm the brain. 

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For other meals, try to sit down and take your time over the meal – eating slowly is a very good stress buster.  Think about what you’re eating and savour each forkful. This way you are appreciating what you eat and will not overload your system by eating too fast, your stomach will feel full and your brain will not think you are hungry.  Avoid eating your lunch at your desk, pick another spot – this small step will make a big difference to your state of mind.

To achieve this mindful eating, you need to be organised and have an idea of what you are going to eat during the week.  Like all good habits, it’s worth practising to get into the pattern of planning meals day by day, and shopping appropriately.  Batch cooking is good way to plan meals and eat well and cheaply.  Cooking at the weekend is an excellent way to destress.   This way you will be able to take charge of your eating habits which will in turn help you manage stress better.

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