Healthy Eating During Times of Stress
When you're feeling stressed, a well-balanced diet might help you restore the mental clarity you need to get things done. As college students, we are typically rushed for time, under stress, and eating on the move. It can be challenging to break poor habits like skipping meals or regularly eating at fast food places.
A nutritious diet can help you feel better, cope with stress, and perform better in the classroom and on the field. Here are a few ideas for getting started.
Listen to Your Body
Is it typical that you lose your appetite or consume comfort foods when you're stressed? Do you constantly eat too little or too much during stressful times? Try to be aware of what you're putting into your body. Keeping a meal journal might help you identify periods when you are stress eating. Keep healthier options on hand for when those rough patches come up.
Work to Address Emotional Eating
We don’t always eat to fulfill our physical needs. Many of us use food as a source of comfort, stress reduction, or reward. We prefer to seek junk food, sweets, and other soothing but unhealthy meals when we’re in this situation. When you’re feeling down, you might grab a pint of ice cream to bring you up. You might order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or stop by the drive-through after a long day at school.
What should you eat if you‘re looking to feel better or relieve stress? Here are some suggestions from Cleveland Clinic to stop emotional eating, combat cravings, understand your triggers, and find more rewarding methods to feed your feelings:
- Get down to the root cause.
Stress has a way of sneaking up on you. It can be tough to notice when stress is hurting your body in today’s environment since we travel so quickly from work to soccer practice to school and back. It’s likely that you won’t even realize you’re stressed until the harmful health impacts have already begun to manifest. We can avoid the health implications of too much stress by listening to our bodies and recognizing when we are anxious.
When you feel stress creeping up and start eating as a result, try to pinpoint what the source of your stress is. Then you can begin to work with it.
2. Swap out your worst snacks.
Watch out for stress-inducing foods!
Certain foods might put your body under stress or aggravate the stress response. Caffeine, for example, can disrupt sleep and dehydrate people. Alcohol dehydrates us and has a depressive effect. Sugary and calorie-dense foods can make us feel bloated, sluggish, and exhausted.
3. Ask yourself why you’re eating.
Simply stop and ask yourself if you’re reaching out for food because you’re actually hungry. Assess your hunger level first. This at least helps you recognize that you’re eating, so it doesn’t become a mindless action.
4. Choose foods that fight stress.
Some foods that can help fight off stress include:
- Dark chocolate
- Whole grains
5. Make emergency packages.
Keep those foods from tip 4 on hand, and pack them with you at all times. That way you always have a healthy snack on hand, even if the reason you’re looking for food is due to stress.
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Slow Down and Make Time
Make a list of everything you eat and drink. For a few days, keep a food and beverage journal. Keep track of everything you eat and drink and how you felt when you decided to eat, especially if you ate when you weren’t hungry. Were you exhausted? Are you feeling tense?
The CDC also suggests highlighting the habits on your list that may be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to weight gain are:
- Eating too fast
- Always cleaning your plate
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or too quickly)
- Always eating dessert
- Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)
Then look at the bad eating habits you’ve mentioned. Make sure you’ve recognized all of the triggers that lead to your bad behaviors. Choose a few that you’d like to improve first.
Don’t forget to congratulate yourself on the things you’re doing well. Perhaps you like fruit for dessert and drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are excellent habits to have! Recognizing your accomplishments will motivate you to make greater adjustments.
Form a Daily Eating Plan
Patricia Brinkman from Ohio State University offers three eating plans that provide reliable assistance and allow individual food choices.
All three plans encourage us to eat:
- Plenty of vegetables and fruit
- Whole grains
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy
- Seafood and plant proteins
These plans limit or encourage people to avoid the consumption of:
- Empty calories, including foods with added sugar, or drinking excess alcohol
- Refined grains
- Saturated fat foods
- High sodium foods
What would a daily eating plan include?
- Vegetables — 2 to 4 cups
- Fruits — at least 2 cups a day
- Whole grains — 3 to 4 ounces a day
- Fish/Seafood — 8 to 16 ounces a week for Omega-3
- Nuts and soy — 4 to 6 ounces a week
- Olive oil — 1 to 2 Tablespoons a day.
- Dairy (1% or skim) — 1 to 3 cups a day
- Alcohol — 0 to 1 drink a day
Following the above dietary pattern lowers your chances of chronic disease, aging, and depression. Choose vegetables, fruit, nutritious grains, 1-percent or fat-free dairy, fish, and plant proteins over comfort meals or junk foods when under a lot of stress.
Daily Meal Plan Example
Meal preparation allows you to eat your favorite foods while ensuring that you don't overeat. Having various well-balanced meals on hand will help you keep track of what you eat and stick to your specific diet objectives. It's not difficult to plan a daily menu as long as each meal and snack include some protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, and a small amount of fat. The article below explains everything you need to know about each meal:
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NAU Campus Resources
When self-care begins to fall to the wayside, NAU has options to guide students on their healthy food journey. Many of these resources also help relieve stress, including stressbusters — a 30-minute session where students experience guided tracks, coloring time, meditation, and breathing exercises.
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Stress! It can feel like it’s always there with you. But what exactly is stress? It refers to any type of physical, mental, or emotional stress that can have catastrophic implications if experienced for an extended length of time. Cravings, overeating, and undereating can all have an impact on what we consume. It can affect our motivation to cook or exercise and our immune system, resulting in colds or diseases. Arm yourself with options and strategies for managing stress to stay healthy and well during times of chaos.