How Stress Affects Your Appetite And What You Can Do About It

Meri Raffetto

How Stress Affects Your Appetite And What You Can Do About It feature image

When you feel stressed it’s a common experience to want to eat a pint of ice cream and equally common to not want to eat anything at all. The stress response is complicated involving many systems of your body. How you react to that response varies from person to person.

Does stress make you want to eat and eat? That’s because of cortisol, a stress hormone that increases your appetite specifically for sweets, hence, wanting to raid the vending machine when you experience a particularly stressful day at work.

On the other hand, stress alters the acid concentration in the stomach leaving you with an uncomfortable feeling like your stomach is ‘tied up in knots’. For many this sensation can lead you to losing your appetite and forgetting to eat meals.

The continued onslaught from stress hormones resulting in eating too much or not enough, can impact your health, waistline and immunity in negative ways. Here’s what you can do to help decrease the effects of stress.

  • Go for a brisk walk. Aerobic activity helps boost endorphins, which can reduce stress hormones. Walking also gives you a chance to step away from a stressful event to re-calibrate, find solutions and get grounded. This is an activity that can quickly reduce your stress hormones.
  • Deep breathing. The best stress buster? Deep abdominal breathing. You can do this regularly by practicing meditation or in the moment you’re feeling stressed. Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a state of calmness. This deep abdominal breathing helps to decrease worrying thoughts and quiets your mind.
  • Eat Omega 3 Fatty acids– regularly. Foods like salmon are particularly high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are shown to decrease anxiety and boost mood. Omega 3’s can’t be made by the body so must come from your diet. This isn’t a quick fix, you want to eat foods rich in omega 3’s regularly to help protect you against the harmful effects of the stress response. Other good sources include flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
  • Grab an orange. Foods high in Vitamin C, like oranges, create a boost to your immune system and may help lower the levels of cortisol and lower your blood pressure during stressful events. Recent studies found individuals with higher levels of Vitamin C in their blood were able to handle stressful situations better. An orange also takes a moment to peel and eat helping you to come down from a stressful situation.
  • Eat whole grains. Whole grains like quinoa or oats trigger the brain to produce serotonin, which can lower blood pressure during the stress response. Choosing whole grains vs. their refined counterparts (think processed foods like white bread) keeps blood sugar stable which in return keeps your mood more stable.
  • Drink a cup of green tea. Green tea contains high levels of L-Theanine, an amino acid that is shown to provide a calming affect without making you feel tired. This is a quick fix so keep some stashed in your desk drawer or opt for a cup of green tea during your Starbucks run in lieu of coffee.

Good nutritious choices every day will help keep your stress hormones from wreaking havoc on your body. Eat more plants and seafood and decrease the sugar and processed foods. Finding the right balance means you feel your best and can avoid the extremes of overeating and under eating when stress comes knocking at your door.


  • Meri Raffetto

    Meri Raffetto was the original founder of Real Living Nutrition. A triplet mom and author of the Glycemic Index Diet for Dummies and coauthor of the Glycemic Index Cookbook for Dummies, and Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies.