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The Effects of Stress on Your Eating

We all deal with stressful situations in life.  Situations that throw our world into a whirlwind.  Situations that cause chaos.  In these times, we attempt to gain control over our lives as best we can.  Many times, there are so many variables that are out of our control so we turn to those variables we can control.  One of these variables is often food.

The other factor that plays into this is that the stress response varies from person to person.  For most, the cortisol level will increase the desire to eat, but at times the stress causes a loss of hunger.

Because of the variability in response, what you do in these situations will be unique and specific to you.  In general, though, two things tend to occur:

  • You begin to eat more and/or make poor food choices.
  • You stop eating or decrease the amount you are eating.

These are negative situations for any human.  If you are continuing to train during these stressful times, the lack of nutrition can take an even greater toll on the body.

Eating More/Poor Food Choices

Eating more is the simple one to explain.  Eat more calories than your body requires and you will put on weight.  It’s that simple.

Poor food choices are a little more complex.  Because the stress hormone cortisol increases our cravings for sugar, many times these foods consist of sweets and processed foods full of chemicals.  As these sugars and chemicals accumulate in the gut, the bloodstream, and the body, the inflammation in the body begins to increase.  Increased inflammation in the body can lead to your body developing aches, pains, and injuries.

To go along with that, as your poor food choices increase, it is likely you are eating fewer healthy foods – vegetables, proteins, healthy fats.  When we decrease and/or eliminate these from the body, we are no longer getting the nutrients our body needs to be healthy and we are no longer receiving the antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatory properties in these foods.

Put those two situations together and it can be a downward spiral into weight gain and injury.

Eating Less

A significant caloric deficit will not provide us the fuel required for optimal performance.  When we are lacking appropriate fuel, both from a caloric standpoint as well as a nutrient standpoint, our bodies do whatever they can to survive.  Initially this is losing weight – and very possibly muscle mass.  If we keep this up long enough, it can develop into injuries.

Why do these injuries develop with lack of fueling and nutrients?  The answer is twofold.  One, our bodies can’t repair themselves because they don’t have what is required to do so.  Two, our bodies start pulling calories and nutrients from itself to survive, which can contribute to things such as tendon tears and stress fractures, just to name a couple.

What do we do about this?

If you are someone who tends to turn to eating poor food choices, the easiest way to do this is by keeping the foods out of your house.  If the foods aren’t in your house, you will be less likely to consume them.  Not to say you won’t go to the store when you have a craving, but at least then it requires more effort and thought to actually consume it.  For many people, this trick works to control the issue.

If you are someone who reverts to avoiding eating because you aren’t hungry, my best suggestion is create a routine if you don’t have one or keep your routine if you do.  If you typically eat at certain times of the day because it is what worked with your schedule, stick to that.  Even if you don’t eat as much as what you did previously, at least you are consuming something on a consistent basis in order to give yourself fuel.  If you didn’t have a routine before because you would actually get hungry, create one and stick to it.  At least then you will know you are getting fueled regularly throughout the day, even if it is just small amounts.

With all that said, I completely understand that the body does responds how it responds when is stressful situations.  Do your best to control what you can control and allow those things you don’t have control over to just be.  The more you can do that, the less effects the stress will have on you.

What stressors are you dealing with currently and how do you find it impacting your nutrition?  Email me at to share.


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