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Should You Eat When Stressed?

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

Whether it causes us to eat more or skip a meal altogether, we can't deny that stress in our body has an impact on the way we eat.

A heightened nervous system signals to our body that it is not a great time to eat, which is why some people find it hard to follow-through with a meal when stressed, even if they know their body is hungry. For those who tend to eat more during times of stress, this may be because food is being used to comfort or quell the rising emotions.

Given that stress is an inherent part of life, and, for most of us, a larger part than we would really like to admit, it's helpful to know how we can work with it in a way that doesn't impede the nourishment we (especially during times of stress!) need.

In a moment of acute stress, you might notice a racing heart racing, a heightened nervous system, more shallow breathing, and a racy mind. When the body is in this sympathetic state, it is unable to shift resources to tasks that are not immediately necessary, such as digestion. Eating in this state means that the body will not be able to breakdown (and absorb) nutrients in the same way, which leads to minimized nourishment and, often, digestive distress.

The good news is that it is possible to quickly down-regulate the nervous system.

Here are a few of my favorite simple things you can do to calm the body before nourishing the body in times of stress:

  • Ujjayi Breathing - This form of breathing quickly shifts the nervous system from sympathetic (fight/freeze/flight) to parasympathetic (calm and relaxed). To do, simply breath in and out through the nose with slight constriction through the back of the throat. This will slow the breath down and should make a whisper sound. Do this with your eyes closed and your mind focused on the breath for 5-10 breaths and notice your body into more ease.

  • Embody Gratitude - Focusing on a few things in your life for which you feel deeply grateful has the power to calm the body and reduce feelings of anxiety. Hold these things in your mind's eye and fully embody the positive feelings that arise.

  • Quick Exercise - Moving the body vigorously for a few minutes can help to release endorphins and have a calming effect. This can be as simple as swinging the arms, jumping up and down, running in place or a few sun salutations... Do what feels good and possible in the moment.

  • Binaural Beats - This type of music has the power to quickly downshift the brain into the theta wave state, which is the state we drop into in deep meditation. This type of music can easily be found on apps like Spotify and Insight Timer. Popping ear buds in and listening to a track (even if it is just a couple minutes long) can make all the difference in the world.

  • Connect with Nature - This doesn't have to take long. Simply stepping outside and touching the Earth with your bare hands or feet can ground the nervous system. Imagine the energy you are wanting to release pouring out of you and into the Earth. She will take it, compost it, and renew it for you.

If you are in a time of chronic stress, you may wish to employ some other useful strategies...

  • Eat at regular intervals and minimize snacking in-between. This will help aid your digestive system by being able to complete a full cycle before being engage again. It will also help you remember to eat, if that is a problem for you. When eating at each interval, use any of the above strategies to help calm the body for your meal.

  • Consider taking an adrenal support supplement to support the adrenal glands and help keep your body in a healthy rhythm. A couple of my favorites are: Adrenal Cortex by Klaire Labs and Adrenal Response by Innate Response. These are available for purchase in my online dispensary for a discount.

  • If your digestion feels sluggish, drink a small (1-3 teaspoons) amount of apple cider vinegar. Chronic stress can diminish natural amounts of stomach acid. The vinegar will help with breakdown in the stomach.

  • Rest and meditate. Easier said then done when stress is chronic, but it will make whatever feels daunting that much more possible. If this is a new habit, simply begin with sitting up and breathing for 1 minute with eyes closed upon awaking.

These are general recommendations, but I would love to help you with a more personalized approach. Reach out to schedule a call with me to determine how we might work together to propel you down your path of improved health and well-being!

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