Stress may be defined as any emotional, physical, social or economic factor that alters the normal body equilibrium. Many of us experience stress on a regular basis, and at times stress serves as a motivator to accomplishing goals. But excess stress can have a negative impact on our health. By recognizing common triggers of stress, one can learn to manage stress at relatively healthy levels. One of the most common triggers to stress is a change in eating patterns.
The Link Between Nutrition and Stress
Poor eating habits can lead to a variety of health problems including: obesity, hypertension, high blood cholesterol or other nutrition related problems. It is important to make healthy eating a priority in order to prevent unhealthful eating habits that may last a lifetime.
Here are some examples of poor eating habits that tend to be influenced by stress:
- Skipping meals
- Excessive dieting
- Consuming excess caffeine, sugar, salt or fat
- Over/Under eating
Guidelines for Healthy Eating
There is no evidence suggesting that our bodies use more nutrients when we are under mental stress. However, stress may cause us to neglect eating well, which may temporarily affect our nutritional status. If you are mentally or emotionally stressed out, here are some general guidelines for healthy eating:
- Invest in your health every morning by starting out with breakfast. It will help you stay alert and prevent overeating.
- Try not to skip meals‐‐eat at least three meals a day, with a few simple snacks. Skipping meals too often actually stresses out the body more and reduces energy when you need it most. Eating regular meals can reduce the temptation to snack on junk foods and to eat too much in one sitting.
- Don’t binge or grab whatever is in sight; take the time for eating well.
- Try to develop a normal eating schedule. Space your meals and snacks out about every three or four hours. Eat small more frequent meals and snacks.
- Separate eating from other activities. Hectic meals can lead to poor digestion, poor food choices and to feeling bad‐‐you need to make time to eat right in order to have energy to do whatever else is important to you.
- Limit excess consumption of caffeine, sugar, salt and foods high in saturated fat.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight by enjoying regular physical activity and healthy eating.
- Drink water.
Stress and Exercise
In addition to a healthy diet, regular exercise is very important because it can increase levels of endorphins (natural mood enhancers) while improving fitness levels. Even if it’s only 15 minutes a day, it will help you feel good while keeping your eating on track.
Can’t make it to the LAC for your daily workout? Check out this video to help you exercise in the comfort of your own dorm room!