5 Worst Foods to Eat When Super Stressed

by Funmi // in Nutrition

Knowing the 5 worst foods to eat will help you better understand how your body is asking you to react to stress. How many times have you found yourself fighting the urge to grab something unhealthy or sweet?

Not only are foods like this often filled with empty calories, which won't help break down the high levels of stress in your body, it has also been proven that they don't relieve stress at all.

The good news is that by making just a few simple changes in what you eat each day, you can not only avoid cravings for junk food but actually manage your stress levels as well!

In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the worst foods to eat when stressed, as well as better alternatives you can easily swap them for. Let’s get started!

The 5 worst foods to eat when stressed

5 worst foods to eat

Stress is a normal part of life. In fact, it’s the body’s natural response to any demand or challenge. But stress can also be our worst enemy when we are trying to lose weight and maintain healthy habits.

That's because there's a clear link between being under chronic stress and overeating, which in turn leads to weight gain.

And with obesity rates soaring every year, this is one health problem that needs more attention than ever before.

1) Sugary foods

Sugary foods are usually processed and lacking in nutrients. Sugars provide a quick burst of energy but then leave you feeling exhausted and without any real fuel.

When stressed, the last thing you need is to feel like your energy levels have dropped even further than they already were.

Your blood sugar levels need to stay stable. That is why eating foods that are low in refined sugars and high in complex carbohydrates like whole grains or beans will help calm the body and mind during a stressful day.

2) Caffeine and energy drinks

It would be great to have a magic pill or potion that could give you all the energy you need but this simply doesn't exist.

Consuming too much caffeine is not only bad for your sleep pattern, but it also excites the nervous system which can knock you out of balance as well as make you feel more tired and stressed.

The caffeine in coffee, soda or energy drinks will make you crave sugar as well which is why it's important to avoid these beverages if you are planning on sticking with a balanced diet.

These drinks also leave an unpleasant aftertaste and can make the desire for sweets even stronger.

Instead of relying on artificial means to give you the energy boost you need, try fruits and vegetables that are naturally packed with high levels of vitamins and minerals instead.

3) Foods high in salt, such as chips and french fries

It's common for people to reach for salty snacks when they are stressed or tired. The thing is, eating foods that are high in salt can cause your body to retain water and create puffiness.

Eating too many salty things can also increase blood pressure which can result in a headache or make you feel lethargic. Once the stress has gone, so will the puffiness and raised blood pressure levels.

You can avoid this by drinking plenty of water and eating more fruits and vegetables that will re-hydrate your body naturally.

4) Foods high in saturated fat

Fatty foods like burgers, pizza, fried chicken and cheese may seem like a good idea at the time but in reality, they will leave you feeling even more sluggish and tired.

Breaking down saturated fats take a lot of energy so instead of relying on them when under stress, try to eat lean proteins like fish or chicken.

These will provide your body with essential vitamin B12 which is needed for the production of red blood cells that can help remove toxins from the body.

5) Alcohol

The last on this list of 5 worst foods to eat is Alcohol. It is often seen as a way to relieve stress but this can cause more harm than help.

Consuming too many alcoholic drinks has been linked to many problems including memory loss and liver damage.

Not only that, it will leave you feeling even more stressed out the next day which is why it's important to stick with foods that are relatively low in alcohol, such as vegetable juices or low-calorie beers.

Why do we opt for 'unhealthy' food when stressed?

5 worst foods to eat

It's interesting how stressed is dessert spelt backwards. There is something about sugar that can be very addictive.

Stress and desert are linked for a lot of women who feel sugar fix is a sweet escape from pressure and overwhelm. 

It's no coincidence that some of the worst foods to eat when stressed are high in sugars and simple carbohydrates.

They provide an instant energy burst which means you won't have to concentrate on anything else until the sugar rush wears off leaving you feeling exhausted. 

Below are six reasons why we opt for 'unhealthy' food when stressed.

Limited time and money.

When stressed the two things that can drain you is time and money. For example, because of deadlines, you probably didn't care to eat until it's almost late in the day and then you're so exhausted to go shopping for what to cook.

Enter - fast food or frozen foods! (they fill the need at a moment like this however continuing in this circle sure has its consequences on your wellbeing and wallet)

Limited cash also makes people's go for cheaper food, which are mostly empty calories, high in sugar, salt and fat, compared to expensive fruits and vegetables.

Being unmindful

Unmindfulness happens when your brain encourages fight or flight mode to keep going without taking a break.

When you are in this mode, all you are focused on is your task that needs to be completed or the bills to be paid.

While this is going on, Stress eating sneaks in and you could be reaching for cookies, almost 3-4 times. 

The issue with multitasking this way is it can affect the signal your brain gets about being Full and you just continue to stuff the food down unconsciously.

Sleep deprivation

Report by "Stress in America" says 42% of Americans. Stay awake at night because of stress.

The stress of achieving our goals, financial instabilities, work, relationships, or health can keep us from sleeping well at night. 

One of the major causes of insomnia is worrying, going for a cup of coffee or caffeinated drinks to stay awake and enjoying nightcaps.

Sleep deprivation affects the function of the Ghrelin and leptin chemicals which control appetite. It also impairs our ability to resist the temptation for a sugar fix.


When stressed, your flight or fight response is activated, and it makes the body release chemicals, including cortisol and adrenaline.

These chemicals get you ready to fight or run away from danger. While in fight or flight Your adrenalin helps you feel less hungry as blood flows away from your internal organs to your large muscles.

Once the adrenaline wears off your cortisol (stress hormone) is just right around to signal your body for food supply.

This makes you crave quick fixes, but these kinds of food are typically high in sugar, salt and fat.

Decreased metabolism.

Stress can be visible physically, but there's another internal way it affects the body process, like metabolism. 

Metabolism is a process related to your body's ability to process energy from fat, sugar and protein, and how it stores energy. Stress decreases your body's metabolism, making it possible for more glucose to be around for energy to fight or flee.

This is one reason it is possible to put on weight, even when you don't eat more than you do. 

Chemicals causing inflammation can be released when you've got excess belly fat, and this affects general well being (emotional and physical).

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How to stop stress from affecting your diet

5 worst foods to eat

1. Eat mindfully. Eating mindfully means you don't multitask while eating. This allows you to be in the moment and enjoy what you're eating.

Slowing down to eat is a form of meditative practice, and can help you calm your mind down, especially when stressed. Another benefit to this is that your body can signal when it's full, so you don't overeat.

2. Know your trigger by Identifying times of stress and plan Where possible. Avoid a food environment that's high in sugar, fat and salt.

For example, fast foods or junk foods. This will help you fight the urge of coming back to those quick fixes when stressed out. Find another way to manage stress. 

If you are already a healthy eater but find yourself hitting the drive-thru every time you're under pressure, your body is craving a different way to cope with stress.  

Pilates, meditation and walking outside are all great ways to relax your mind and release endorphins (happy chemicals).

3. Plan your meals and have a healthy snack handy for those moments when stress feeling kicks in. Avoid sugary alternatives.

Consider other foods that are rich in complex carbs, protein and healthy fats.

B is for bananas, non-fat yoghurt with nuts or almonds, whole-grain crackers with peanut butter, a lean turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce tomato and mayonnaise. 

4. Try to avoid eating within two hours of the time you usually go to bed. This is because it's most likely that the food you eat will be stored as fat rather than used as energy so try not to let this happen.

If you are stressed and hungry at night, make sure that you have an evening snack of fruits or vegetables.

5. Try to identify the source of stress and try not to react with a negative attitude. Acknowledge the stressful event then look for a solution to help you get through it.

6. Be aware of your feelings when stressed. Are you really that hungry? Did you have a bad day at work or trouble with the kids? Realise that stress can be managed and not allowed to control your eating habits.

5 Tips for eating healthier when stressed 

5 worst foods to eat

1) Eat breakfast because this helps to fuel your body with the energy needed to get through the morning without reaching for unhealthy snacks. Make sure that it contains a lot of fiber and protein.

2) Eat small meals throughout the day, every two hours or three to four a day depending on when you can fit them in. This will help to prevent cravings because your body is being given nutritious food it needs for energy.

3) Drink plenty of water during the day- this aids digestion and reduces puffiness.

4) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables- they are good sources of vitamins and minerals that can help to improve your mood.

5) Eat a sensible dinner that is not too large. This is because the body will not have much time to digest it before you go to bed.

Try eating a dinner that is high in fiber and proteins because this will provide your body with the energy it needs as well as help it feel full so that you don't reach for unhealthy snacks when stressed out.

5 worst foods to eat

Final Thoughts on 5 Worst Foods To Eat When Stressed

There are many ways to manage your stress levels, and not all of them involve popping a pill. One way is by making simple changes in what you eat and drink every day.

The five tips we’ve shared will help reduce the likelihood that when you're stressed out, you'll reach for unhealthy snacks such as burgers or pizza.

If these seem too daunting at first, start with one tip per week until it becomes second nature to avoid stress eating altogether.

We can't completely avoid stress, but we can manage it very well by being deliberate about things we put in our body for our nourishment. 

I hope you got something out of this 5 worst foods to eat article, please feel free to share. I'd love to know your opinions and your thoughts in the comment section below. 

More resources

Stress and Eating Behaviours

Why stress causes people to overeat

About the author 


Funmi is a Certified Functional Health Coach. She is passionate about helping female entrepreneurs transform from Stress and burnout so they can begin to thrive in their body and, by extension, their businesses.

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