Fitness & Nutrition

What to Eat to Beat Food Cravings

By on 03/18/2015

“Stress eating” is a battle many of us face daily. When under pressure at work or at home, many people are more likely to reach for a bag of potato chips or a glazed doughnut than they normally would be. This sudden craving of high-fat, high-calorie foods after stressful situations is due, in part, to the hormone cortisol, also known as the fight-or-flight hormone.

When an individual is placed under any stressor, their adrenal glands release cortisol. This leads to a number of physiological responses, including a release of glucose into the bloodstream and reduced insulin production. While these mechanisms can be helpful in survival situations, the problem is that our fast-paced lifestyles place our bodies under constant stressors. The resulting increased production of cortisol and glucose can eventually lead to weight gain, increased risk for diabetes, and even cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that we can help reduce the risk for all of these outcomes by managing our day-to-day stress and eating a nutritious diet.


1. Eat regularly. Eat within one hour of waking up, followed by a healthy meal or snack every three to four hours. Going too long without eating can cause major fluxes in your blood sugar and may cause you to overeat at a later point.

2. Limit sugar and caffeine. Sweets and caffeine can pick you up in the short term, but they’ll ultimately leave you feeling more tired. This makes you more apt to reach for something sweet as another pick-me-up.

3. Go a little nuts. Nuts and seeds are packed with B vitamins, zinc, vitamin E and potassium—all good for lowering stress and blood pressure.

4. Get your greens. Broccoli, kale, spinach and other dark green vegetables contain high amounts of magnesium, a stress-busting mineral.

5. Favor healthy fats. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Avocados are full of potassium, another blood pressure–lowering mineral.

6. Seek out vitamin C. Vitamin C can help build up your immune system and combat the effects of cortisol. This vitamin can be found in a variety of fruits and veggies, including oranges, grapefruit, berries, melons, kiwifruit, bell peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

In addition to a nutritious diet, physical activity, deep breathing and other leisure activities can help reduce your stress levels and help you become a happier, healthier you!


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Review Date: October 29, 2016
Reviewed By: Andrew Overman, PT, DPT, MS, COMT, CSCS
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