Surprising news about the stress and food connection

My Hormonology

Surprising news about the stress and food connection



Stress can spike any day of your menstrual cycle, however there are phases when it’s more likely to rear its nail-biting, hair-tugging head: During your Week 2 (the week leading up to and including ovulation) due to high estrogen triggering more arousal in stress-managing areas of the brain; and during your premenstrual Week 4 (the six days before your period) due to plunging estrogen dragging down the level of mood-moderating serotonin in the brain.

Are you someone who often turns to doughnuts, chips, cookies and other unhealthy comfort foods when feeling stressed? Here’s a surprise for you: A 2019 study from UCLA shows that eating vegetables, fruits and other healthy foods works just as well as comfort food for beating stress.(1)

But wait, there’s a twist! In this study, the researchers also found that not eating has the same effect on stress as eating any type of food.

Meaning? You’ll get over the stress just as quickly whether or not you eat!

Not gonna lie, this was a surprise to me. Especially since I admit that I use food in times of stress. But, I have learned to turn to healthy foods instead of high-fat, high-calorie unhealthy foods. For example, I chow down on whole grain rice cakes to get that satisfying crunch–and research has, in fact, shown that crunching food does lessen stress.(2) So, there’s that benefit.

Since this research shows that you actually don’t need unhealthy comfort food to lessen stress, this is a good opportunity to think of other ways to reduce stress, such as going for a walk in nature, listening to calming music, meditating, doing yoga, exercising (such as climbing stairs or biking) or talking with a friend.

And, if you’re like me and do turn to food in times of stress, consider healthy options, such as crunchy rice cakes, apples and carrots or a delicious sweet orange or banana.

Never miss a Hormonology tip!
Subscribe to the free Hormonology newsletter:
I’d love to learn more–sign me up!

(1) Laura E. Finch, Jenna R. Cummings, A. Janet Tomiyama, “Cookie or clementine? Psychophysiological stress reactivity and recovery after eating healthy and unhealthy comfort foods,” Psychoneuroendocrinology, 107 (2019): 26-36..
(2) Kin-ya Kubo, Mitsuo Iinuma, Huayue Chen, “Mastication as a Stress-Coping Behavior,” BioMed Research International, May 18, 2015.

Follow me
Latest posts by Gabrielle Lichterman (see all)