By Fatima Villalobos, MS, MEd

According to the 2010 Stress in America survey:

“…nearly 75 percent of Americans say they experience stress at levels that exceed what they define as healthy…People are also saying they have difficulty implementing the changes they know will decrease their stress and improve their health.”

While we all respond and deal with stress differently, the main types of stress we experience are the same: 1. the acute, or temporary stress that automatically triggers the potentially life-saving “flight-or-fight” response and 2. the chronic, or persistent stress that is associated with prolonged physiological and emotional changes.  It is the chronic stress that is often seen as “unmanageable” and “toxic,” and that studies have frequently linked to increased appetite, greater fat accumulation, and stress-induced eating.

So how do we combat the toxic effects of chronic stress to our mind & body?  While it is tempting to reach for the chocolate bar or pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, this will only temporarily relieve stress levels.  Furthermore, by eating high fat/sugar foods, we reinforce the desire for these kinds of food the next time we feel stressed (real or perceived), ultimately feeding the vicious cycle that can lead to obesity.  Below are some tools to help combat daily stress.

The following suggestions for stress-reducing foods can also be found on medicinenet.

1. Bowl of warm oatmeal –increases serotonin, calming and comforting the mind

2. Other Complex Carbohydrates– because these are digested slowly, they provide a long supply of the calming hormone, serotonin (ie. whole grain breakfast cereals, breads, tortillas, and pasta)

4. Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers and chili peppers – the vitamin C helps strengthen the immune system and reduce levels of stress hormones

5. Spinach, Green Leafy Vegetables, Cooked Soybeans, Salmon – these contain magnesium which help combat headaches & fatigue

6. Fatty fish, pistachios, walnuts, or almonds – the omega-3 fatty acids help protect against heart disease, reduce inflammation, lower the risk of certain chronic diseases

7. Avocados- high in potassium, these can help reduce high blood pressure as well as satisfy a high-fat craving

8. Raw Veggies- help release tension in the jaw and well as provide the body with various vitamins, minerals and fiber

In addition to eating stress-reducing foods, try these other helpful stress management strategies:

–       Exercise: Getting a little bit of exercise everyday helps release some naturally “feel-good” hormones.  The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines suggest exercise bouts of at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity.   Note: As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

–       Deep Breathing & Visualization: concentrate, close your eyes and focus on a slow, controlled movement of air in and out of the body while visualizing something peaceful

–       Relaxation Techniques: take a daily walk, try meditation, yoga, or tai chi to help slow down and maintain well-being

–       Time Management: Get organized and learn to prioritize in order to prevent procrastination!  Avoid taking on more than you can handle at work and home.

Additional resources used:


Kravitz, L., Montes, M.V. (2011, February). Unraveling the Stress-Eating-Obesity Knot. IDEA Fitness Journal, 8, 45-50.