Why Stress causes you to Overeat & What to Eat to Reduce Stress
When you’re stressed, your body releases different hormones. And when those hormones are coupled with high-fat, sugary “comfort foods”, it’s pretty easy to see why researchers have linked weight gain to high amounts of stress.
Besides weight gain from overeating, stress affects your body in many other ways including: migraines, muscle tension, chest pain, constipation/diarrhea, nausea, sleep troubles, decreased sex drive, and many other ways which you can read about here.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:6-7
Why Stress causes you to Overeat:
When stress is short-term, it can cause your appetite to shut down. This is because the hypothalamus (located in the brain) produces corticotropin-releasing hormones, which suppresses the appetite.
When this happens, the brain also sends messages to the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine.
Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) helps trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. When this happens, the need to eat is temporally put on hold.
But when stress is long-term, it’s a completely different story. Instead of the adrenal glands releasing the hormone epinephrine, they release cortisol.
Cortisol not only increases your appetite, it also causes food cravings. And according to the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center, carbs and sweet foods are usually craved, especially in women.
If these types of foods are consumed in large amounts, it can lead to unwanted weight gain. So when you’re tempted to overeat, try these healthier alternatives instead.
What to Eat to Reduce Stress:
Foods high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Omega-3 fatty acid not only protects cells against stress-related inflammation but has also been show to prevent mood swings.
– Grass-fed Beef
– Wild Salmon
– Chia Seeds
Nuts & Seeds:
Nuts and seeds reduce depression because they are rich in energy-boosting protein and good-for-you fats. Also, walnuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids (discussed above) which has been linked to reduced rates of depression.
And cashews and almonds have selenium which has been shown to elevate mood. Plus, pumpkin seeds, which contain tryptophan, may help the brain increase serotonin levels.
Try a handful of these nuts and seeds to help with stress and depression:
– Pumpkin Seeds
If you’re craving chocolate, instead of reaching for milk chocolate, try some dark chocolate. According to a study done in 2009, eating dark chocolate reduces levels of stress hormones.
Plus, it’s been shown that dark chocolate helps to lower blood pressure nearly as well as many drugs. 
Foods high in B-Vitamins:
During a clinical trial lasting 3 months, employees were randomly divided into two groups by Australian researchers. One group received placebo pills while the other took a B-complex multivitamin.
Assessments (done before and after the trial) of mood, personality traits, and work strain revealed that the vitamins significantly reduced workplace stress.
The group of employees who were taking the B-complex vitamins reported decreased feelings of strain, less confusion, and a brighter overall mood.
Try these foods that are great sources of B-vitamins:
– Green leafy vegetables
– Turnip Greens
– Swiss Chard
– To see more foods that contain large amounts of B-vitamins, click here.
– Chamomile Tea has been shown to decrease anxiety symptoms when consumed regularly over time.
– Green Tea contains the amino acid, theanine. And according to researchers at the University of Illinois, in addition to protecting against some types of cancer, theanine is also a brain booster and mood enhancer.
Foods high in Vitamin C:
Vitamin C has been shown to help combat stress. In fact, a study done by German researchers found that vitamin C not only lowers blood pressure but also lowers levels of cortisol.
– Read more about fruits that are high in vitamin C, and boost your immune system, here.
Sources & References:
Spencer SJ, et al. The Glucocorticoid Contribution to Obesity, Stress (Feb. 6, 2011): Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 233–46.