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Sneaky Ways That Your Food Choices Cause Stress

Written by Jolene Hart, CHC


Sneaky nutritional stressors (which may not leave you feeling a typical ‘stress’ reaction at all) can fuel exhaustion and hormone imbalance— often without your knowledge. Here’s how to know if they’re affecting you, and easy ways to avoid them.

We’re all well-acquainted with the concept of stress. We’ve also heard about the wear and tear that elevated stress levels cause on our bodies over time. Stress, when prolonged and in large amounts, sparks a host of negative effects that reach mind and body. Some stress may be unavoidable (the traffic jam on the way home from work, the confrontational co-worker) while other types of stress are more readily within our control (the list of things we worry about each day, for one). But there’s another category of stress that our bodies shoulder each day— one that goes largely unnoticed: nutritional stress.

Hidden nutritional stressors often fuel elevated cortisol levels, leading to fatigue, cravings, and hormone imbalances (and further manifesting in skin issues, fertility challenges, and just generally feeling less than great). As a health coach I teach my clients how to avoid these nutritional stressors by making simple shifts in their daily habits. As a result, they not only understand their bodies better, they gain energy and support balanced hormones— two of the holy grails for female health! In my new book Well-Rested Every Day, I share my approach to minimizing the occurrence of these common nutritional stressors.

Here are the top nutritional stressors to look out for in your daily routine, along with the best ways to avoid them:


Even mild dehydration increases cortisol levels in the body, elevating risk of anxiety and depression in turn. It’s easy to ignore or overlook your needs for hydration during a busy day, but routinely coming up short on fluid intake builds unnecessary stress in the body. Prioritize regular hydration— you’ll also find that it helps you to stay mentally sharp!

Low fat diets.

Not only are high-quality fats (think: raw nuts and seeds, wild salmon and sardines, avocado, olive oil) necessary for the body to absorb all of the fat-soluble nutrients in your food, fats are the building block of hormones. Without adequate amounts of good fats in our diets, we fuel hormonal issues. Fats are also important for satiety, helping your body feel full and satisfied between meals and reducing sugar cravings.

Elevated glucose spikes.

The blood sugar response that results from your meals affects whether you feel satisfied and powered by steady energy for hours, or hungry, unfocused, and craving sugar and simple carbs for a quick energy hit to make it to the next meal without a crash. For a meal with a stable blood sugar response, combine quality sources of protein, healthy fats, and abundant colorful vegetables— or a modest amount of fruit.

Skipping meals.

The mindset that we can skip meals to ‘bank’ calories for a future splurge is outdated and ill-informed. Regularly skipping meals puts your body into a state of stress and low blood sugar that fuels hormone imbalance and makes it harder to maintain your healthiest weight. Each time your blood sugar drops, your adrenals must produce more cortisol to raise it. Those demands for cortisol negatively impact both the production of other hormones and overall hormone balance over time. Aim to eat your meals in a regular rhythm throughout the day, and when you feel hunger, grab a meal or snack with the blood sugar–stabilizing protein/fat/fiber combination.


The energy boost you get from daily coffee or energy drinks? It’s not one size fits all. While caffeine may be an energy helper for some, it’s also a stimulant that raises cortisol, resulting in a jittery feeling for others. Caffeine enables your body to “push through” its limits— clouding your ability to recognize and respect those same limits. When you skip the caffeine or make it an every-now-and-then thing, you support increased absorption of minerals, lowered cortisol and a calmer stress response (this alone has powerful health benefits over time), steadier blood sugar, and more restful sleep.

Read more about lowering stress and feeling well-rested in Well-Rested Every Day: 365 Rituals, Recipes, and Reflections for Radical Peace and Renewal, out now! Enter our GIVEAWAY to win a copy here.

Jolene Hart, CHC is a health coach certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and founder of the pioneering beauty coaching practice Beauty Is Wellness. She is a former InStyle magazine beauty editor and the bestselling author of five wellness books, including Eat Pretty, which helps readers support their beauty and health with seasonal nutrition, and the newly released Ignite Your Light and its companion journal Shine On, guides to your personal energy’s role in beauty, healing, and joy. At the heart of Jolene’s work is her desire to empower her readers with the ability to shape their lifelong beauty and health with simple tools and habits. Her private coaching looks at many areas of life, from stress and hormones to diet, digestion, and safe personal care products, to help her clients build a lifestyle that enables them to look and feel their best from the inside.

For more information, please visit

Listen to our podcast episode with Jolene here!


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