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What Comes First, The Stress Or The Bad Eating Habits?

April 10, 2024

By Coalition Coordinator, Erendira Zazueta


The food we eat plays a big role in how we feel on a day-to-day basis. Yes, it is important to eat healthy but is that always easy? Not for everyone. Even food can be a stressor in some people lives. They can be stressed out worried if they have enough money for food, they may have an allergy so it is difficult to eat out, some people are very busy and have no time to make themselves a good meal, someone can have an eating disorder, parents with picky eaters find it difficult making dinners plans, etc. Another thing that makes food become a stressor is that social media nowadays is so back and forth about food and what we’re supposed to be eating.


“Eat salads! But not too much dressing!”

“Go gluten-free it’s better for you! Actually no, eat whole wheat it’s more natural!”

“Cut your pizza slice in half and dab the oil off with a napkin to make yourself TWO slices with the SAME amount of calories and less fat!”

“Eat 3 eggs to get more protein! No, eggs can actually make you get sick if you eat them daily!”



While some people may know how to do their own research and speak to a nutritionist to know what is good for them, others get their diet information online which can cause them a lot of stress if they are being pressured by all the diet propaganda. Online information can be useful but be sure to make sure where you are getting the information from is a credited source. Any website with a .com is questionable but something with a .gov or .edu can be considered a useful website.


Stress and eating can be a cycle. You’re stressed so you eat, then you stress about what you ate, you don’t feel well because you ate unhealthy, but now you’re stressed out so you tell yourself you deserve a little sweet treat. The problem with stress eating is that when you are stressed, your body stores more fat than when you are relaxed. Usually during times of stress people tend to eat more foods that are high in calories and fats and the body is storing all of that. Now instead of feeling more happy and less stressed, you end up feeling sluggish and lazy and then you start feeling bad about yourself. So it’s a negative cycle.


It’s normal for us to want to overeat when we’re feeling stressed so, how do we handle that? A good way is by starting with what is available to you, what do you have in your house? You might have cookies, chips, ice cream, frozen pizzas, doughnuts, or even some left overs from the restaurant you ate at 3 nights ago. If you’re stressed out and in a rush it might seem much quicker to heat up the pizza or leftovers and have some ice cream as dessert. While that is completely ok every once in a while if you normally eat healthy during the week, it’s not ok if it becomes a consistent habit. A good way to help manage time and eat healthier is meal prepping! Super cliché and everybody talks about it, but for a reason, it works! Find some time in your very busy schedule and block out an hour or even try to start it in time intervals. Find some recipes for the week and prep your lunches or breakfast or even dinners! While some people assume you just have to cook all your food for the week it doesn’t have to  be that way. One thing you can do is prepare your dinner, cut all the veggies and prep the meat if you will be using a protein, and leave it in the fridge so when it comes dinner time you just have to add everything to a pot or pan and cook it. You can even prep some snack for the week so you don’t get home tired and hungry at the same time.



When it comes to buying groceries you don’t have to buy organic, gluten free, low-calorie, low-fat everything. What is more important is adding as many veggies, grains, and fruits that you can financially afford and actually will eat to have to your groceries so you have a variety at the house and you can add more veggies to your favorite dishes or more fruits during breakfast. You can even use some fruits and veggies as snacks. This could be beneficial for parent with kids and toddlers and kids are more likely to eat vegetables and fruits if they are readily available and washed an cut up even if they’re stored in the fridge. Same goes for adults!


You can start by also taking small steps towards and making some food swaps. You can swap:


Sweet sugary cereals > Wheat biscuit cereal or low-sugar cereals

White bread > Whole wheat bread

Cereal bars > Plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruits and a little honey

Potato Chips > Plain or lightly salted popcorn

Canned soups > Homemade vegetable soup with chicken or beef

Store bought donuts > Homemade oat pancakes

Chocolate pudding > Sugar free jelly


Those are just a few options, you can choose one or two and try them out and see how your family, your kiddos, or even you like it. Having some of these options available can help reduce the stress about eating healthy or even save you some time when you are in a rush leaving the house and need to take a lunch or snack. When it comes to financial stress, choose only one of the swaps and maybe next time you grocery shop try a different swap, any effort is good effort!



To avoid stress eating and end up overeating high fat and calorie foods it is important to have healthy coping skills. Not being stressed out seems impossible in this day and age where people have to balance work, social life, their health, and mindfulness all at once when they work 8 hours a day and try to get 8 hours of sleep which takes up 16 hours in a 24 hour a day. Small tasks can make a big impact. Taking a 15 minute walk around your work if you are able to, writing about your day in a journal or a sticky note, participating in your favorite hobby at least once a week, having one fully vegetarian meal a week, increasing your water intake by 2 cups, taking 5 minutes to sit somewhere quiet a take deep breaths, taking your pets on a 15 minute walk, etc. These are all small little tasks that will help you be a little less stressed. If you do end up feeling stressed do some self-care but in a healthy manner and perhaps make yourself a nice healthy dinner but have a doughnut for dessert. That is a good way to balance it out.



Thank you for checking out this week’s blog! Come back next week for a new topic!


Sources

2.      American Psychological Association (2024). Stress and Eating. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating

3.      NHS (2024). Healthier Food Swaps. https://www.nhs.uk/healthier-families/food-facts/healthier-food-swaps/


Image Sources

1.      Hackensack Meridian Health (2023). Stress & Eating Habits: How to Manage. https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/en/healthu/2023/07/19/stress-and-eating-habits-how-to-manage

2.      Fit Men Cook (2022). Healthy Meal Prep – 5 Recipes, 10 Healthy Meals. https://fitmencook.com/meal-plans/healthy-meal-prep/

3.      Healthy For Life Meals (2020). The 17 Best Healthy Food Swaps. https://www.healthyforlifemeals.com/blog/the-17-best-healthy-food-swaps

4.      Betty Crocker (2017). 5 Dinner & Dessert Pairings Easy Enough for Busy Weeknights. https://www.bettycrocker.com/menus-holidays-parties/mhplibrary/everyday-meals/5-dinner-dessert-pairings-easy-enough-for-busy-weeknights

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