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Do you stress eat?

We live in a fast paced society (I'm sure you hear this all the time). It seems like everyone is always so busy, but there is a difference between business and stress! Operating at a high level of stress can create all sorts of health complications, but it may also influence your eating behaviours.

Associations between stress and eating behaviours:

  • When you are stressed there is a greater chance you will search for high fat and high sugar foods. Ultimately people tend to make less healthy food choices when they are feeling stressed.

  • Studies have found associations between cortisol levels and eating habits. Cortisol is a steroid hormone involved in the flight or fight response (aka stress in the body). Research has found that those with greater cortisol levels tend to choose foods that are more calorie dense and have higher sugar contents. Again, suggesting that the more stressed we are the less healthy food choices we make.

  • Attention women: research suggests that when stressed, women in particular tend to overeat.

Take a minute to reflect here. When you are stressed do you think you overeat? Turn to food as a form of comfort? Whether you make changes or not, being aware of your eating behaviours is one step in the right direction.

Personal reflection: I most definitely am a stress eater. Now don't get me wrong if I am feeling extremely stressed my appetite is suppressed, but working at a moderate level of stress it is enhanced and I am looking for sweets.

How does all of this translate to weight?

Well this is where things get slightly foggy. There are inconsistent study results, meaning we don't fully understand the relationship between stress and weight just yet.

What we do know:

Over the short-term stress usually leads to a decreased appetite, however over long-term it leads to an increased appetite. In addition, how stress impacts each individual is very different, some people will eat more and others will eat less.

BUT...research studies have found that stress can lead to weight gain given inadequate sleep, increased alcohol intake and reduced physical activity.

Bottom line: stress in combination with these other behaviours (e.g. lack of sleep) can lead to weight gain over time for some people.

What can you do?

1. Reflect on your eating behaviours and be aware - Are you a 'stress eater?' Are you eating because you are hungry or are you looking to satisfy something else? Being aware can help you make healthier food choices. This awareness can help you pack your lunch bag or stock your cupboard in a way that promotes healthy eating (even when stressed).

2. If you find yourself 'stress' snacking, try to choose healthier options (for example fresh fruits and vegetables, or less sugary options).

3. Find time for YOU (relax and unwind). Remember whether you are a mother, sister, employee, father, you are important. In order to be the best version of yourself you need to be healthy! Making time for things that make you happy is an important part of taking care of your health. Maybe that includes physical activity, maybe that includes enjoying meals with loved ones, playing a golf, watching Netflix. Whatever it is, make time for it.

4. Get active. Physical activity releases natural endorphins (feel good chemicals), which can help you feel less stressed.

5. Get more sleep. Recent research found that the effects of stress can be reduced by a goodnight's sleep. Check out this CTV news article for more details.

Canada 150 Challenge: This weekend do at least one thing you love to help you relax and unwind.

I hope everyone enjoys the Canada Day long weekend! :)

Cheers to happy and healthy eating!

Until next time,

Eat Right Feel Right - Angela XO

Special shoutout to my nutrition student assistant Monica Petti for her research support.


1. Yau & Potenza (2013). Stress and Eating Behaviours

2. Harvard Mental Health Letter (Feb 2, 2012).

3. Jaaskelainen et al. (2013). Stress related eating, obesity, and associated behavioural traits in adolescents: a prospective population based cohort study.

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