What to Eat When You’re Tired, Sad, Anxious, or Angry

I think about half of America and much of Canada woke up today feeling tired and upset — a perfect storm for overeating. Volunteers in sleep studies typically eat hundreds of extra calories when sleep-deprived. Stress is often cited as the number one trigger for emotional eating. But you don’t have to lose yourself in a bag of M&M’s to feel better. In fact, you’ll likely end up feeling worse.

Try these 7 strategies instead:

  1. Eat breakfast, which is consistently associated with better mood than fasting.
  2. If you’re craving carbs, choose lower glycemic index grains and starches, which help keep your blood sugar stable. People tend to report poorer mood when their blood sugar falls. Think oats for breakfast, barley soup for lunch, and roasted sweet potato with supper. If it’s cooked al dente, even pasta is a low glycemic index food! Aim for about a cup, cooked, give or take, and you’ll satisfy that craving without overdoing it. Load up the rest of your bowl with veggies and a protein source. Comfort food at its best. Italian pasta with shrimps and vegetables on wooden background
  3. Include protein with every meal and snack. This is another strategy to help keep your blood sugar stable. When we say protein, people think meat, fish, and chicken, but remember that eggs, peanut butter, legumes, and milk products deliver protein too.  You can turn those oats, for example, into a protein-rich breakfast by adding about two tablespoons of hemp hearts and pairing with a cup of milk or yogurt.
  4. Enjoy coffee or tea, in moderation. It’s not your imagination, the caffeine in these drinks can make you more alert and give you a boost of energy. And in moderation, coffee appears to be neutral to positive for a variety of health outcomes, so go for it. Hot chocolateJust keep it to two to three 8-oz cups of coffee or 8-10 cups of tea to keep within the recommended 400mg/day max for caffeine. And if you suffer side effects like insomnia, nervousness, GI upset, irritability, or rapid heart rate, obviously skip this one.
  5. Stay hydrated. This might sound obvious, but if you’re thirsty, remember to drink. Water is great, but other fluids count too. If you’re looking for comfort food, try this healthier homemade hot chocolate, with just 2-3 teaspoons of sugar per cup.
  6. Skip high-sugar snacks and drinks. That cold bottle of Pepsi calling your name? Don’t do it. Studies show that their impact on mood is either negative or only slightly positive, and only for a short time. Same goes for sweetened coffee drinks. Have it black if you can, but if not, keep in mind that most people should stick with 6 (ideally) to 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day. If one or two go in your coffee, no problem. If, on the other hand, your preferred comfort drink is a flavoured latte (sorry pumpkin spice fans), you’re probably doing yourself more harm than good.
  7. Enjoy a square or two of dark chocolate. The mood-boosting effects of chocolate, on the other hand, are not a myth. If your chocolate is on the high side for cocoa content (say 70% or more), you’ll get just a teaspoon or two of sugar and a higher dose of the good stuff.

If stress is a constant in your life, it may be worth looking at other nutrients, like folate, iron, omega-3 fat, and B vitamins. An even better strategy is to reduce or manage stress in the first place. For example, a study that compared self-reported energy and tension found that a 10-minute walk outperformed a candy bar. Yay for fresh air and exercise!

But if you just need a little comfort food on a tough day, try a warm cup of lentil soup (low glycemic index, hydration), a peanut butter sandwich on sprouted grain bread (low glycemic index, protein), or a plain latte (caffeine, protein, hydration). You’ve got this America. And if you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.


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