10 Facts About Stress and Diet

By Rita Larsen, Elite Sports Clubs Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Counselor

  1. Everyone handles stress differently. Some people will eat less during that time, and others will eat more. Although there is no way to avoid stress and strain, there are ways to minimize the effects these pressures have on your mental and physical health. You can adjust your dietary habits to help you cope better.
  2. Some stress is good for us. It is what gets us up in the morning and on to doing productive things, especially if we have a good attitude about the things we are about to do. Some stress frequently comes cloaked in worry, anger, frustration, and fear; and it is these stresses, called distress, that are the most harmful to your health. The physical responses to stress causes our heart to race, our blood pressure to go up, and our stress hormones adrenalin and corticosteroids to flood our system in response to modern day “threats”.
  3. In today’s world, we often do not have physical methods to relieve this pressure. We create the stress level we are in, and then we “stew” in it. Many experts feel that long-term ongoing stress can be dangerous. Stress hormones can linger in the bloodstream, blood cholesterol and sugar levels stay high, and nerve chemicals circulate in record numbers. Such prolonged stress can lead to cardiovascular problems, peptic ulcers, asthma, and a variety of cancers. It can also put a strain on the immune system, further reducing resistance to colds, infections, and disease.
  4. Stress and diet are closely interrelated. A deficiency in any nutrient can cause a strain on all the metabolic processes dependent on that nutrient. Small amounts of beta-carotene and vitamin C weaken the body’s antioxidant defenses, exposing the tissues to increased risk of damage and disease. In addition, how well your body is nourished prior to and during a stress response affects how well you handle the stress. A well-nourished person copes better than a poorly nourished one.
  5. For many people, eating habits are at their worst during periods of high stress. They can either forget to eat, or overload with an abundance of food. Consequently, a person can be more vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies during periods of stress than any other time in their lives.
  6. Mental and emotional stresses will affect the body in very similar ways. The immune system is the body’s main defense system against foreign bodies or abnormal growth cells, such as cancer cells. In a healthy state, people are able to count on the functioning of their immune system and protection against any further disease process. Optimum nutrition and low stress levels can provide years of good health, happiness, and a longer life free of disease.
  7. Research studies by the USDA found the effect of work-related stress on mineral status was greatly compromised during periods of stress by as much as a 33% reduction. These studies were especially true of the nutrients, potassium, magnesium, B vitamin complexes, and antioxidants of vitamin A, C, and E. Associated nutrients also compromised by stress responses are zinc, chromium, copper, and iron. In addition, these levels will quickly return to normal levels with vitamin-mineral supplementation and by eating foods high in these nutrients.
  8. Carbohydrates, protein, and caloric needs do increase the metabolic rate during a stressful event by as much as 13%.
  9. Stress will release the stress hormone, cortisol, from the adrenal glands. Cortisol turns on the release in the brain for high carbohydrate or sugary-type foods, especially sweets. It will be important to have protein based foods on these days to avoid the “sugar response” to stress. Milk-based foods will allow the body to release calming levels of the body hormone, serotonin.
    Stress Eating
  10. Suggestions for healthy de-stressing habits include:
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Sleep at least seven hours a night
  • Work fewer than ten hours a day
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy breakfast, and just eat a nutrient-packed, low fat diet overall
  • Cope effectively with stress
  • Positive beliefs, attitudes, and expectations, including hope, trust, love, faith, and laughter turn otherwise stressful events into more pleasurable ones and greatly reduces the risk of suppressing the immune system. In fact, these positive emotions can actually enhance immunity!

For more information or coaching on how to manage your stress & diet, contact Rita Larsen. If you’re just interested in the types of health & nutrition programs we offer at Elite Sports Clubs, check out our website.

Do your eating patterns change when you are stressed? Do you eat more or less, and does the quality (healthiness) of the food differ? Tell us in the comments!


This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

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