Foods to Avoid When Stressed

We’ve all experienced stress symptoms: sweaty palms, racing heartbeat, even headaches and loss of appetite. It’s enough to make you wonder why your mind and body won’t seem to cooperate no matter how many times you count to 10.

Despite how unnatural these feelings can seem, stress is a natural physiological and psychological reaction to the uncontrollable external factors of everyday life. It doesn’t evaporate once we graduate college, start a new job or move across the world. It’s always around and affects everyone differently.

While diet and exercise are constructive methods to help alleviate anxiety and stress, there are certain types of foods that can actually make us feel worse. Recognizing common symptoms of stress and avoiding these foods when you experience them can help keep stress to a manageable level.

Foods high in sugar

Dark chocolate may stimulate endorphins and promote stress relief in small amounts, but that doesn’t mean eating the entire bag will do you much good. Sudden spikes in blood glucose levels will only worsen symptoms of stress and anxiety, and when such a sharp spike leads to an even more severe crash, you’ll be left with an empty bag of chocolate and still feel just as anxious as you did before.

Eat instead: If you know a snack will calm you down, try munching on a rice cake or granola bar instead of giving into your stress-induced sweet tooth.

Processed foods

In addition to high sugar content, processed foods are also filled to capacity with elevated amounts of fat and sodium. Those Doritos you crave are handfuls of empty calories and excess fat and salt that can make you feel bloated and lethargic — add that to your stress and you’re in for quite a headache (literally).

Eat instead: A few stalks of celery can provide that same satisfying crunch without the unwanted additives.

Spicy foods

It’s not uncommon to experience gastrointestinal discomfort when you’re stressed, and as with many GI disorders, foods on the spicy side will do more harm than good. Stress and digestion are not a friendly combination, so do your best to avoid ordering Chinese takeout until you’ve crossed a few more things off your to-do list.

Eat instead: Sprinkling some black pepper on your salad, pasta or baked potato can give you the flavor kick you’re searching for without upsetting your stomach.

Avoiding stress-inducing foods won’t make the underlying worry go away, but being able to keep a level head and staying physically well will help you think more clearly, maintain your focus and recognize when you need to step back and give yourself a mental break. 

Meg Dowell on Twitter
Meg Dowell
Meg Dowell is one biochemistry course away from a bachelor's degree in dietetics. She recently graduated with a B.A. in English, blogs for and is the health/fitness/nutrition editor for College Lifestyles magazine. She hopes to begin her master's program at Benedictine University this January, pursuing an MS in nutrition and wellness with a concentration in nutrition entrepreneurship. Follow her on Twitter @MegDowell.