Monday, 28 November 2016

Stress Eating: The Problem and a Possible Solution

Most of us have been there before. It’s late, you’re getting home from a gruelling day of school or work and the last thing you want to do is prepare a healthy meal. So you decide to either heat up a frozen meal with little nutritional value or more likely pick up fast food on the way home. This is one of the many unhealthy eating habits that most college/university students exhibit. Although not exclusively a student problem, it is one that many students are accustomed to.

Many students each year make the transition from high school to college or university. With this transition comes new social relationships, pressure to meet high academic standards and a need to form an identity as an adult. As a result of all of the changes in a young person’s life, they are likely to experience a significant amount of stress. As you may know stress affects individuals in various ways, one of them being an individual’s eating habits.

The student diet, typically involves a combination of multiple caffeinated beverages (ex. coffee and energy drinks), sugary snacks, and fast food. You may notice that fruits, vegetables and lean meats are absent from the prior description. It’s also not about what students are eating, but when they’re eating as well – as most students admit to skipping meals and not eating regularly. These behaviours can have serious consequences on an individual’s health and well-being.  The American College of Health has found that the percentage of students with obesity is increasing, and that young individuals who are obese are more likely to remain overweight as they age. 

But why does this happen? Is there something unique about college and university students, that causes unhealthy eating habits? Of particular interest to researchers has been the relationship between stress and unhealthy eating habits. Perceived stress, is one of the factors researchers have cited as playing a role in unhealthy eating habits. This is particularly concerning because more than 95% of university students perceive themselves as having moderate to high levels of stress.

A recent study from Errisuriz and Colleagues investigated whether an individuals perceived ability to manage stress had an impact on eating habits. Participants of the study were first-year male and female students at a US university. What they found was that perceived ability to manage stress moderated the relationship between perceived stress and unhealthy eating. Meaning that individuals who reported a higher ability to manage stress ate healthier, and individuals who reported a low ability to manage stress were more likely to have unhealthy eating habits.

The findings of Errisuriz’s research are important because they would suggest that providing students with helpful stress management strategies is not only important for emotional well-being but also an individual’s physical well-being as well. And the necessary time to do this should be when students are beginning university so that they can continue effective stress management and healthy eating throughout their university career.

If you find yourself picking up unhealthy eating habits, it may be worth your time to evaluate how stressed you are feeling and seek resources your university may offer to effectively manage your stress.  


Errisuriz, V. L., Pasch, K. E., & Perry, C. L. (2016). Perceived stress and dietary choices: The moderating role of stress management. Eating Behaviors, 22, 211-216. Retrieved from

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