Mindful Eating While Stressed Out: Part 1

Guest Blogger: Paige E. Butkus, Nourished to the Core, LLC – Holistic Nutritionist & Yoga Teacher

Stress is a part of life and how we deal with it determines the quality of our life. One way of dealing with stress is to eat foods that comfort us such as pasta, pizza, ice cream, cookies, and the list goes on. Just reading these words might conjure up feelings of happiness as carbohydrate-rich foods have been shown to increase your feel good neurotransmitter serotonin. Food has a profound impact on our lives in a multitude of ways from reminding us of our childhood to distracting us from dealing with our problems. In order to combat stressful eating, prepare yourself with awareness and knowledge.


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Eating While in a Stressful State:

In our culture today we are bombarded by constant stressors such as our jobs, driving, television, money, and relationships. These stressors activate our sympathetic nervous system to go into what is called a “fight-or-flight” response. No wonder it is difficult to focus on eating well, never mind eating mindfully. Who has time for that? We must find time to eat mindfully because when we are in a stressed out state of mind:

  • We deplete our adrenal glands that help us cope with the demands of stress causing chronic fatigue syndrome, feelings of depression, and lack of motivation.
  • We produce cortisol which in excess causes: weight gain, inflammation, weakened immune system, gastrointestinal problems, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and fertility issues.
  • We do not digest our food properly under stress causing symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, nausea, pain, and spasms. Stress shuts down our gastrointestinal tract reducing the digestive juice (enzymes and hydrochloric acid) that help us break down food.
  • We produce extra blood sugar (glucose) from the liver. If you are under stress on a consistent basis and the glucose is not used up, it can contribute to developing a risk of type II diabetes.


How to Stop Stressful Eating Habits:

Identify your stressors and triggers.

First work on realizing what is the source of your stress and what triggers you to have a stress response. If these stressors are things that you cannot reduce or control, then find ways to deal with them. Notice how you cope with your stress and evaluate if you need to replace your negative habits with more positive ones. If you tend to reach for alcohol maybe go to a yoga class instead. Alcohol reduces our ability to be mindful and stimulates the hypothalamus to cause feelings of hunger, which in return causes us to eat more than normal. Slow down when eating and appreciate what is in front of you. Giving yourself a moment to pause will also allow you to recognize if you are actually hungry or trying to fill a void in your life. Food is very symbolic of the relationship we have to our lives. You’ve heard of the statement “You Are What You Eat” but in Ayurveda (the sister science of Yoga) we say “You Are How You Digest.” This statement is not only about how you literally digest your food, but how you digest your experiences in life. Make the effort to find healthy ways to stay connected to yourself and relieve stress.


Keep blood sugar levels stable.

When we eat sugary processed foods our blood sugar levels spike then crash. This crash in blood sugar levels can make us feel irritable. When our blood sugar levels drop drastically low, we are uninhibited to make smart decisions for ourselves. Low blood sugar signals to the body to immediately eat whatever is available in order to maintain homeostasis. To avoid fluctuations in blood sugar:

  • Eat regularly. Try to eat healthy protein-rich snacks between meals if you get too hungry. Reach for a savory breakfast such as eggs, avocados, and greens over a sugary breakfast like cereal, muffins, or donuts.
  • Eat foods with fiber such as whole-grains which also contain antioxidants. Fruit is a healthy source of sugar as it contains fiber and other vitamins. Fiber will slow down the digestion of the sugars found in fruit.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol.
  • Eliminate refined sugar and processed foods from your diet as these add no nutritional value.

~Paige E. Butkus, Nourished to the Core, LLC – Holistic Nutritionist & Yoga Teacher


Paige E. Butkus has been teaching yoga since 2007 in Denver, CO. She obtained her Bachelors Degree in Human Nutrition from Metropolitan State University of Denver May 2015. She currently is leading yoga classes at the River yoga studio and Club Form. She has a private nutrition counseling practice through Nourished to the Core, LLC. She can be reached through email at [email protected] or through her Facebook page www.facebook.com/nourish2core

Disclaimer: Before making diet or lifestyle changes consult with your primary care physician, especially if you are prescribed any medications. These tips are meant to improve your eating habits and are in no way intended to substitute medical advice.  Use your best judgement when making changes. Be your own health advocate.


Find more strategies to stay healthy during stressful times in Part 2!

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