How Junk Food MAKES Stress Worse

According to one survey, 38% of adults eat unhealthy foods or overeat during periods of stress. While it might seem like a pint of ice cream or bag of chips offers temporary relief, new research reveals that eating junk food could negatively impact your mood.

The Stress-Appetite Connection



Research shows stress is associated with higher fat intake. A spike in cortisol levels (when stressed) increases appetite. That can create a bigger problem when you reach for fried, salty or sweet foods that have little nutritional value and a lot of excess calories. These foods increase inflammation and cause your blood sugar to spike, which can tank your mood.

Factors such as oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance can trigger brain changes associated with depression; diet can combat these mood-altering brain changes. While the foods you choose have an impact on your mental well-being, the reverse is also true: Your mood can influence your appetite.

How Is It Different For Men and Women

Men and women had different responses to poor eating habits, according to the study, published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience. Mental distress in men was associated with the least healthy dietary patterns [and] women were less likely to experience mental well-being compared to men if they didn’t follow a healthy diet and lifestyle.

A healthy diet and exercise are needed for both genders, but women may need to pay closer attention to their diets and exercise as they may be more sensitive to dietary variations. This may be in part because women’s brains have more neural connectivity (or regions) between cortices, making a healthy diet even more important for their mental health.

The Best Diet To Improve Your Mood

flat lay photography of vegetable salad on plate
Mediterranean Diet sample

It is found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with greater mental well-being, especially in women. A 2018 literature review supports that finding: People who followed a strict Mediterranean diet, which included lots of fish, nuts, vegetables and fruits, had a 33% lower risk of being diagnosed with depression compared to those who ate a so-called western diet that was high in processed meats, trans fats and alcohol.

What Does This All Mean

vegetables and tomatoes on cutting board

Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and spending time in nature can help improve well-being and alleviate depression. It’s also important to find productive ways to control stress. Instead of heading to the kitchen in search of something sweet or salty the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try journaling, reading a book or calling a friend. Moving your body with bursts of physical activity is good at alleviating every day pressures and stress while also keeping your waistline in check.


2 Replies to “How Junk Food MAKES Stress Worse”

  1. I found my self craving sweets after dinner, that is my weak time. Even though I know I am not hungry, any suggestions? When weather warms up, I plan to walk in the evening.

  2. Until you can start walking, try to find something else that will distract you from the sweets craving. Also drink water. Make sure you are getting your protein and healthy fats in at dinner as well. These help to curb if you are hungry and curb the cravings. Now the other thing to look at is there anything in particular that you are craving or is it just sweets in general?

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