Eating healthy during stressful times

blueberries and strawberries in a bowlWhen we’re under stress, oftentimes our first inclination is to skip meals or grab something quick but unhealthy. However, research shows that our need for nutrients increases during times of stress and that there is a more rapid turnover of protein, fat and carbohydrates that your body needs to produce energy. Follow these tips to avoid common eating pitfalls people can find themselves in during stressful times:

  • Avoid quick, sugary fixes.
    When your energy slumps a common reaction is to grab a quick treat like candies or cookies, but while this quick burst of energy provides some immediate relief it can often be followed by an even worse energy slump. This can lead to a repetitive cycle of quick energy boost followed by a crash, which can leave you feeling even more tired than you were before. For healthy snack ideas, check out Healthy snack ideas for when you’re on the go.
  • Caffeinate in moderation.
    Another common response to a drop in energy levels is to reach for coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages. Be sure to watch your caffeine intake because high levels of caffeine can lead to feelings of anxiety and increase your body’s stress response with symptoms like increased heart rate. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink water regularly.
  • Comfort food as a treat, not a norm.
    When we’re stressed we often use food as a reward or a comfort after a long day. But when we’re stressed we’re most likely to choose foods low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, and fat. If you do choose to splurge on something less than healthy, make sure to balance it out in the rest of the day with balanced, healthy choices. For more information about what makes up a balanced diet, see Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Keep a regular, balanced diet.
    Make sure to keep eating three meals a day and snacking as necessary, even if you are really busy with studying or an assignment deadline. Focus on meals that contain vegetables and fruit, whole grains and protein. Keep healthy foods in the house for meals and snacks to resist the urge to go out for something unhealthy. Always start the day with breakfast and eat a moderate sized meal or snack every three to four hours after. For quick and easy breakfast ideas, see Easy breakfast ideas for busy students.
  • Find other, healthy ways to boost your energy levels.
    Being active and participating in exercise can actually increase your energy levels and reduce stress. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep at night will also help you to have more energy and can help to decrease food cravings. For information about ways to get active on campus, see the Athletics website. For information about optimal sleep health, view our Sleeping Well video.

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