The holiday season can be a stressful time for some people, and food can act as a way out. There are different types of stress, including acute stress, short duration, and chronic stress, which persists over time. Both cause hormonal changes (eg adrenaline, cortisol) which can have an influence on eating behavior.
Stress and diet
The Nutrition Source, a nutrition reference based in the Department of Nutrition at the T. H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, explains that stress can lead to behavioral changes that can impact eating habits:
- Stress increases the body's need for energy and nutrients.
- People with chronic stress may crave comfort foods (eg, highly processed foods high in fat, sugar and calories).
- People under stress may lack the time or motivation to prepare nutritious and balanced meals. They can also jump or forget some
- Stress can disrupt sleep, causing fatigue during the day. To cope with this fatigue, some people may resort to stimulants (eg caffeine, high calorie snacks).
- During acute stress, adrenaline decreases appetite.
- During chronic stress, high levels of cortisol can cause cravings, especially for foods high in fat, sugar and calories, which can lead to weight gain. (See the article:Does stress interfere with your weight loss?)
- Cortisol promotes the accumulation of belly fat, which is associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (See article:Type II diabetes), cardiovascular disease and certain breast cancers.
- Cortisol lowers levels of leptin, a hormone that promotes fullness, and increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite.
Some tips for dealing with stress without using food
Do physical activity
Exercising can help reduce stress by helping to reduce blood pressure, muscle tension, and stress hormone levels. The World Health Organization recommends that adults get at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. (See the article:Fight depression, anxiety and stress through sport? )
Have good sleep hygiene
Poor quality sleep can be a stressor. Indeed, some studies observe that lack of sleep increases cortisol levels. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
Limit your caffeine intake
Caffeine can increase stress and disrupt sleep. Health Canada recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of about three cups of coffee. For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, they should not exceed 300 mg of caffeine per day, which is the equivalent of about two cups of coffee.
Engage in relaxing activities
Relaxing activities like yoga, mediation or deep breathing can help reduce stress. (See the articles:Anxious Here are some tips to reduce your anxiety levelé as well asThe benefits of yoga and simple postures)
Practice mindful eating
People under stress can eat without realizing what they are eating. Mindful eating aims to counteract this situation by encouraging people to engage all of their senses in tasting and enjoying food, to pay attention to their physical signals of hunger and fullness and to choose foods that are both satisfying and nourishing for the body. This practice can help to become aware of the emotions that impact eating behavior and to find strategies other than food to deal with these emotions. (See the article:Intuitive Eating, what do you eat in winter?)
- Geiker, N., Astrup, A., Hjorth, M. F., Sjödin, A., Pijls, L., & Markus, C. R. (2018). Does stress influence sleep patterns, food intake, weight gain, abdominal obesity and weight loss interventions and vice versa..Obesity reviews: an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity,19(1), 81 https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.126033