Stress due to nutrition

Stress due to nutrition

To understand how nutrition can cause stress, you first need to know what stress actually is. Stress are influences that can challenge you physically and also mentally and can bring you out of balance.

Reactions to stress

The body reacts to stress in four stages. The first of these is the alarm.

The brain perceives the stress. This may be a loud noise or the sudden appearance of the boss. The brain’s response to the stress is to put the body in readiness.

in readiness. Blood pressure and pulse increase and various stress hormones are released, because the brain assumes a dangerous situation. Alertness increases and the muscles tense up. Then the body goes to the third stage, the resistance.

Having been thus prepared for the stressful situation, the body accepts it and deals with it. The dangerous situation can be eliminated in this way most of the time. After this resistance to the stress, it can continue as usual. If the stress, which is often the case in our time, becomes chronic and lasts longer, states of exhaustion.

The reason for this is that the adrenal cortex, a gland responsible for the production of stress hormones, does not have much stamina. A lot of nutrients are needed to produce stress hormones. When these run out, the body can no longer respond properly and loses its resistance, leading to states of exhaustion.

Uncontrolled food intake due to stress

Due to the constant need for nutrients to cope with stress, many people react with uncontrolled food intake. In stressful situations, this often involves fast food, sweets or even coffee. All these things are not very healthy for the body. But, if the stress continues all the time, it is also very difficult to break with these unhealthy eating habits. And so, again, stress through diet is created.

Stress from diet due to the stress hormone cortisol.

When the human body is under great physical or psychological stress, the stress hormone cortisol is released. Cortisol regulates blood sugar levels and blood pressure. It is also involved in the body’s defense against infections and allergies, and also helps the brain use glucose. Cortisol is vital to the body because it helps it remain efficient.

However, when too much cortisol is secreted, the body becomes under constant stress. A too low blood sugar level is a cause of permanent stress. The person becomes irritable and restless. This reaction often occurs when you reach for foods with a low glycemic index. As a result, the blood sugar level rises very quickly and also falls again very quickly. This is how stress from nutrition occurs, which is just as stressful as stress at work or emotional stress situations.

Consequences of stress through nutrition

In the case of incorrect nutrition, cortisol is also increasingly released. If this is the case over a longer period of time, it can lead to problems with the thyroid gland, damage to connective tissue, rapid aging of the skin, a reduction in muscle mass and depression. There is an increased risk of heart attack and the immune system can be weakened.

Foods that promote stress through nutrition

There are several foods that people tend to reach for in stressful situations, but which increase stress by increasing the release of the stress hormone cortisol. These include:


Coffee increases the production of cortisol in the body. Of course, a cup of coffee in the morning to get you going is perfectly fine. You just need to make sure that you don’t take in too much caffeine, as this will permanently increase your internal stress.


Eating sugar causes your blood sugar levels to rise and fall quickly. It seems to you that sugar calms your nerves in stressful situations, but this does not last long and leads to more cravings for sweets. The cortisol level also rises and you are more restless afterwards than before.


Sweet baked goods

It’s even worse when you eat sugar in the form of baked goods. Sugar in combination with white flour, a high fat content and little fiber, really cranks up the production of cortisol.

Fried foods

Fried foods such as French fries or chicken wings, which contain unhealthy trans fatty acids, also drive up cholesterol levels and also the production of cortisol.


Sausage contains animal fats, is high in calories and low in valuable nutrients and vitamins. In order not to stress the body unnecessarily, consumption should be kept to a minimum.

Fast food

Fast Food
©Gina Sande/

Fast foods like hamburgers and pizza raise cortisol levels very quickly and should be avoided.

Pasta and pizza

Both products consist mostly of white flour. They do not have much nutritional value, but have a high glycemic index, which stimulates the output of cortisol.

Soft drinks

Soft drinks have a high sugar content and rapidly drive up blood sugar levels, which in turn stimulates the production of cortisol.

Alcoholic drinks

Alcohol damages the liver and weakens the immune system and fat metabolism. They also cause stress in the body through nutrition and you should avoid high-proof drinks and sweet cocktails if possible.

Especially at times when you have a lot of professional or personal stress, you certainly like to reach for one or even more of the above-mentioned foods. In the short term, you will feel your nerves calm down and you will feel better. But in the long run, you will do immense damage to your body. You will gain weight, have problems with blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Your internal organs can be damaged and you run the risk of having a heart attack. So it’s high time to break this vicious circle and put an end to stress through nutrition.

Stress-eaters and stress-hungry

Actually, everyone knows today that especially in stressful situations, the body needs to be taken care of particularly well. It should get enough exercise and enough sleep and, above all, a healthy diet.
However, this looks somewhat different in normal everyday life. Often, due to professional stress, there is no time to eat right, to shop properly and healthily and, above all, to prepare food in a healthy way.
When it comes to stress through nutrition, there are two different behaviors, the stress-eater and the stress-starved. The stress-eater develops a craving for sweets and fats when stressed. The stress-hungry, on the other hand, loses his appetite in such situations.

The health consequences

When stress is occasional, both eating behaviors are balanced by normal eating behavior. Only when the stress is permanent is there a risk to health. This can be overweight in the case of stress eaters and a reduction in physical and mental performance in the case of stress eaters.

The foundation for eating behavior is often laid in childhood. Some children tend to eat less under pressure. Others learn early on to cope with stress by eating. Thus, there is an ice cream to comfort or a cookie against a bad mood. Later, chocolate is eaten before exams as food for the nerves.

bad food

However, there may also be physical causes for stress eating. Under stress, the brain needs more energy and more glucose. This can be easily taken by a snack, which should be fat and sugary to provide enough energy.
This snack activates the reward center in the brain. However, the reward does not last long and the carbohydrates and sugar cause the blood sugar level to rise and then quickly fall. This again creates a craving for something sweet, fatty. The higher cortisol level possibly blocks the appetite-inhibiting neurotransmitters.

What you can do against stress through nutrition

If you are a stress eater, you can swap out the unhealthy snacks for healthy things like nuts or dried fruit. The best thing, however, is to avoid or limit stress. Therefore, you should take a close look at your daily routine.
Balance it out with social contacts, sports and other ways to relax. Pay attention to breaks at work. It is especially important to make good use of your lunch break. Eat something healthy, preferably brought from home, as canteen food is usually not very healthy. Try to take a short walk or just put your legs up for a few minutes.

Man cooks with fresh food
©Jeanette Dietl/

Nutrition tips against stress through diet

Especially people who received something sweet as a reward as a child will still like to reach for something sweet as an adult to reward themselves. So you should already start with your children to avoid such rewards. Strict prohibitions are not a solution either, because everything that is forbidden becomes even more tempting.

To avoid stress eating, first of all you need to realize that you are suffering from stress and you should find out what is causing the stress. Then you should consider how you can manage the stress without immediately reaching for something sweet.
Perhaps relaxation exercises or autogenic training can help you distract yourself and become more resistant to stress.

In the case of permanent stress, you should take action yourself to do something about the causes. A conversation with your boss or your colleagues may help to clarify the situation. The tasks can be better distributed or managed together.

social life

And the last thing you should do is think about other rewards than food. Perhaps a simple walk in the park will help to take your mind off things. A social evening with friends, a visit to the cinema or theater can also loosen up the monotonous, stressful daily routine. Maybe you can reward yourself with some flowers or a new piece of clothing once in a while.

And if it has to be food to calm down or as a reward, make sure you reach for healthy alternatives. At the office, it might be sugar-free chewing gum. In the evening, have fresh vegetables with a tasty dip on hand. There are several ways to do this without always resorting to unhealthy things.
Your body and your health will definitely be grateful if you find ways to manage stress without adding to it through nutrition.