Stress affects each one of us every day, and it can come at us in a variety of different ways. During intense periods of stress the human body produces hormones known as cortisol and epinephrine (or adrenaline). These chemical messengers trigger different biological responses within the body such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, and can cause imbalances in blood-sugar levels along with fatigue. Some people are able to effectively combat this stress in a variety of different ways, whether it be through exercise, relaxing and listening to music, or getting together and planning activities with friends. 

For many individuals, stress and food go hand-in-hand. Food can give us the feelings of power, control, and satisfaction that we need in stressful situations. It’s no surprise that when our stress levels go up our resistance to “comfort” foods goes down.

People who are always on the go and lead a busy lifestyle often fall into this category and can find it difficult to fit balanced nutrition around a busy schedule. Eating out at restaurants frequently can also become problematic. Large portions and an abundance of delicious tasting high-calorie foods on the menu can make it difficult to maintain a healthy diet.

Additionally, stress tends to make the body crave those foods that are high in fats and sugars; this flaw can in time inflict even greater amounts of stress on the body and pose other problems that can affect your physical and mental health. What you may not know however, is that a healthy diet can give your body the positive step that it needs to combat daily stress. With the proper nutrition, you are better prepared to face the challenges of the day.

Here are tips and practices that can help you to maintain a healthy diet during times of stress.

  • Breakfast: Always strive to eat a well-balanced meal each morning. A good source of protein and fiber in your breakfast can help sustain you longer throughout the day, and you will be less likely to snack later on.  Foods such as eggs, Greek yogurt, whole fruits, and oatmeal are all excellent choices to fill you up and keep you satisfied. Check out our Pinterest board for nutritious breakfast ideas.
  • Healthy snacking: To sustain your energy throughout the day, snacking can be a great way to accomplish this as long as these snacks are filled with healthy food choices. Food items such as mixed nuts, fruit, or veggies with hummus dip are all nutrient-packed snacks that would make excellent choices.
  • Drinks: Always be sure that you are drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Eight or more glasses of water is the daily recommended amount. Also, try to avoid sugary beverages such as soda, sweetened tea, and juices with added sugar. These types of drinks will give you empty calories and do not provide sustainable energy.
  • Color your plate: Remember to use the strategy of filling your plate with a variety of different colors from vegetables and fruits. This will help to ensure that you are receiving adequate amounts of nutrients that your body is in need of during times of stress.

Schedule nutrition consultation

Health Promotion and Wellness offers free individual diet analysis and nutrition guidance for those striving to improve their lifestyle. Faculty, staff, and students can meet one-on-one with the Health Promotion and Wellness nutritionist at no cost. Participants need to complete a three-day food diary  and a health questionnaire  prior to their nutrition consult. Forms may be returned via email to, by campus mail to 2120, by fax to (309) 438-5003, or by hand delivery to the main Health Promotion and Wellness office in 187 McCormick Hall.

Health Promotion and Wellness also provides presentations for campus groups and organizations. Please contact our office at (309) 438-1882 to request this service.