A pathway to a healthier you

Disrupt stress eating

What we eat can affect how we feel. When we are stressed, we become hungrier. We tend to crave comfort foods-high sugar, high fat and salty foods for more energy. And this can cause more stress in the body. Many of us ‘stress’ or ‘comfort’ eat when we are not feeling good; a cycle that can be difficult to disrupt.

Soothe-eating the wrong foods

Alison, a nurse/midwife working in a busy metropolitan hospital, had high levels of work stress and would eat junk foods to soothe herself. 

“I got into a habit of eating lots of sweet things, especially at night after a late shift. Looking back, I can see how addicted I became to these foods, because they gave me temporary relief for my stress, even though overall it made me feel worse”.  

Alison also experienced regular bouts of depression, and often felt anxious. 

Gut happiness and mental health

Our mood is regulated by the brain, which needs optimal nutrients to function properly. But when we are stressed, anxious, and depressed, it can be challenging to focus on eating healthy.  

Nutritionist Audra Starkey from the Healthy Shift Worker podcast spoke to us about the importance of food and mental health. 

“What we eat affects our mood and mental health because information flows back and forth between the gut and brain via the vagus nerve” Audra told us. 

“Health promoting messages are dependent on a diet made up predominantly of plant based foods such as vegetables, salads, fruits, legumes (such as chickpeas or lentils), wholegrains, nuts and seeds; chicken, fish and lean red meats; and healthy fats such as avocados and olive oil.   

If the body is lacking in nutrient dense, fibre-containing foods, the tiny microorganisms in the gut are also unable to produce neurotransmitters like GABA, dopamine and serotonin, which are instrumental in regulating our mood.” 

Finding new ways to soothe her emotional distress became an important part of Alison’s plan to improve her stress levels and mental health. 

“I could see that what I was eating was not helping me to feel good emotionally.”  

Mindful eating to reduce stress and feel better

Once Alison learned strategies to manage her stress, she was able to eat more healthily. She began using mindfulness as a tool when eating, which helped reduce overall stress levels, making it easier to focus on better food choices.

Stress eating: 5 strategies to slow down

  1. Exercise (instead) to burn off tension and stress - go for a brisk walk after work, when stress levels are often the highest 
  2. Prioritise sleep – when we are tired we tend to eat more unhealthy foods
  3. Practice eating mindfully – to slow down and can lead to better food choices over time 
  4. Identify your emotional triggers and replace stress eating with other calming activities such as journaling, crafts, or listening to music  
  5. Remove temptation – avoid having comfort foods in the house. 
Mindful eating offers a scientifically-proven, effective way to help regulate the stress response for optimal digestive function, which is the cornerstone of wellness and survival