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Intermountain Health Dietitians Suggest Rethinking “Stress Eating”

"Stress eating" can actually make stress worse, according to a registered dietitian nutritionist with Intermountain Health

(PRUnderground) May 18th, 2024

Exams, final projects, final performances, or final games and other activities that wrap up the academic year can be stressful. “Stress eating” — or the consuming of foods higher in fats and sugars and lower in nutrients, caffeine, or even skipping or replacing meals with energy drinks — can actually make it worse, according to Intermountain Health dietitians.

“Let’s rethink the way we eat, and focus on high-nutrition foods to help us decrease stress instead of add to it,” said Tiana Barker, registered dietitian nutritionist for Intermountain Health. “With a little planning to meet our needs and habits, we can give our mental and physical wellness a boost when we need it most.”

Scientists have predicted that 40 percent of adults and children increase their total intake of food in response to stress, while others either reduce or have no change in overall intake. Studies also have shown that stress tends to lead people to eat foods that are higher in fats and sugars, and fewer high-nutrient foods such as fruits and vegetables.

People experiencing stress also may lack motivation to prepare nutritious, balanced meals, or skip and forget meals altogether, Barker said. Teens tend to move towards greater caffeine consumption to boost energy rather than depending on the most reliable energy source: food.

Barker recommends that during stressful times, people choose foods that can boost the immune system or reduce stress-induced inflammation. Here’s how:

  • Keep healthy snacks and meals in the house, and ready-to-go choices available to eat in a pinch.
  • Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein and dairy sources.
  • Set an eating schedule and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Minimize caffeine consumption, and don’t replace meals with caffeinated beverages.
  • Have a treat occasionally. All foods fit, and a balanced intake includes these foods.

Barker also recommends trying not to speed through meals, which can improve digestion and make eating a pleasurable experience, and getting regular exercise to lower blood pressure, stress hormones, and tension in muscles.

In addition to intake, here are some ways to decrease stress:

  • Practice meditation or deep breathing – research shows that these techniques can reduce anxiety, chronic stress and reduce harmful hormone levels.
  • Set boundaries for your time and try to make sure that life stressors do not interfere with fun activities, sleep, or needed personal time – even an hour a day can make a difference.
  • Seek social or professional help as needed.

“Creating an awareness of your or your child’s eating habits during stressful times may help prevent under- or overconsumption of food, and help you make healthier food choices when some of the less nutritive choices are more tempting,” Barker said.

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About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., Intermountain Health is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called Select Health with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see

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