3 Steps To Eating Well on Stressful Days

Stressful days and situations can lead to emotional and uncontrolled eating. We all live busy and hectic lives and, for most of us, stress is inevitable. Everyone copes with stress in different ways, but food is a very important stress coping mechanism for most people.  

In a perfect world, people would turn to fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods to help balance out a bad day. In reality, overconsumption of readily available high fat and high sugar foods is a much more likely response to stressful situations. 

Although stressful days may sometimes feel inevitable, your response to those days does not need to be. Today I will discuss  some strategies you can use to ensure difficult days do not take massive a toll on your diet and your health. 

Step 1 – Plan Ahead: Although this will not always be the case, there will be certain days that you know in advance will be difficult and potentially stressful for you. If this type of situation often applies to you, it is important to plan ahead. 

i. Surround yourself with healthy snacks on those days. Bring plenty of healthy snacks from home including fruits, nuts, sandwiches, granola bars, yogurt and so on.  

ii. Know what your meals will look like on those days. Plan your breakfast, lunch  and dinner a day in advance so you know exactly what you will be eating and have less room to deviate from that plan. 

iii. Have an amazing “day-before”.  If you know you might struggle with the day ahead, do yourself a favour by eating particularly well the day before. That way , worst case scenario, you will lessen the impact of a less healthy day of eating.

Step 2 – Separate work from food: This may be hard to do on a busy, stressful day but I highly recommend taking time away from your desk or area of work/study when it is time to eat. Even if you only have a limited amount of time, separating your work from your eating will allow to eat in a more relaxed and mindful way. This will certainly help with digestion and general wellness and may also help you control the amount you eat on those more difficult days.

It is also important that you always make time to eat, even if it is just a healthy snack. Controlling your hunger on stressful days may be an important mechanism for you to reduce cravings later in the day.

Remember that just because you have a bad day at work or school, it does not mean you have to have a bad day of eating. 

Step 3 -Let bad days motivate you: In my experience, the ability to turn a negative into a positive is an invaluable life skill, especially when it comes to food. This manner of thinking may take time for you to develop, but if you are able to do so, it will have profound benefits on your eating habits. There are two ways you can use this approach to your advantage on stressful days: 

i. You can make a hard stressful day better by using it as motivation to eat well that day. A healthy meal or day of eating can go a long way to make a person feel better about themselvs on a stressful day. If you have a bad day at work, let that motivate you to have a great day of eating. Doing so will help you balance out positive and negative forces and should help leave you feeling better about those more difficult days.

ii. If you ate poorly on a very stressful day, use that as motivation to eat better for the rest of the week. Bad days at work happen, bad days of eating happen. I am not as concerned with you having a bad day of eating as I am with how you respond to that bad day of eating. If you eat very poorly one day, that is fine. What is not fine, however, is allowing that one poor day to perpetuate poor eating for the rest of the week. I am urging you to use poor days of eating as positive motivation to eat even better for the rest of the week.

I truly appreciate how significant of an effect a stressful day can have on your eating habits and I am hopeful that today’s article has provided some valuable guidance to lessen that effect. As always, I wish you the best in succesfully applying this guidance to your daily life.


Unti next time, Eat Up!
Andy De Santis RD MPH