Health & Wellness Articles

Beat Stress, Weigh Less

The Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain

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Today, wild animals aren't attacking us, but we are facing huge stressors that affect our bodies exactly the same way as they always have, despite the fact that most of our modern-day stresses are not physical in nature and therefore don't burn any calories. Cortisol doesn't know that though, and it keeps coming, making you hungry—for simple, sugary carbs to supply you with instant energy. To make matters worse, moving the sugar we just ate from our blood to our muscles requires the hormone insulin. After stress, the body is filled with sugar and insulin, a fat-storing combination. Even worse, fat storage due to stress eating is usually centered around the midsection—visceral fat that has been linked to both diabetes and heart disease. Not good news for those who suffer from chronic stress.

Loss of Control
Many of us experience stress when we feel like life is out of our control or that we can't do what we need to do because of time or situational constraints. We may eat to fulfill emotional needs or to procrastinate. You may feel like we don't have enough time to fit in our workouts or lack the energy to exercise as long or intensely as you'd like. You may forget to pack a lunch, not have enough time to go to the grocery store or have reoccurring cravings for high-fat, calorie-dense foods. Fast food may seem like the only option that's both tasty and quick enough to scarf down over your lunch hour.

But just like everything else, eating when stressed is a somewhat learned behavior. Yes, there is brain chemistry involved, but over time, we can rewire our brains to not let stress affect our eating and energy levels. We can also deal with it head on by creating a stress-reduction plan and following simple tips to deal with stress and its negative effects. When you have more control over your life, you'll find that it's easier to stick to a healthy eating and workout plan. Eating better, exercising and combating stress—it's a combination to prevent weight gain and enhance weight loss.

Create a Stress-Reduction Plan
The first step to creating a stress-relief plan is realizing that you have too much stress in your life. First, take this online test to see if you are overly stressed. If you are, make a list of your stressors. Knowing what these stressors are is the first step to figuring out how to deal with them. Now identify one or two stressors that are within your control. Ask yourself if there's anything you can do to make your life easier. Is it looking for a different job? Getting up 20 minutes earlier so that you can miss the rush hour commute? Delegating some household chores to your children or significant other? So often we suffer from stress without ever thinking about the problem long enough to find a solution.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • I find this article to be burdened with cultural gender biases. Heads up, women feel stress at work, just like men. Our stress is not based only on family responsibilities. In fact, some men feel stress associated with family issues as well. Please take your science and review it for the corrupt of preconceived gender roles and expectations. - 9/11/2014 3:20:59 PM
  • EX-SKINNY60
    DITTO, GRAYGRANNY! and if stress KILLS then I'm a marked woman there, too! - 7/14/2014 9:26:36 AM
  • There is a large area of stress that wasn't acknowledged in the quiz, for those of us who are caretakers either of an elderly parent or a disabled child or in my case both. Neither of these can be eliminated so although my quiz resulted in at moderate risk for stress, my actual stress level is much higher. - 7/14/2014 8:15:25 AM
  • Good suggestions. - 7/14/2014 5:23:05 AM
  • I am reading this article (and others) while eating my breakfast and watching Lift Every Voice.
    My stress, I believe comes from never feeling like I am good enough for my Mother.

    But.... today, I choose to focus and pleasing GOD and to continue teaching the youth that I can reach out to. - 10/20/2013 10:12:14 AM
  • I really liked this article. Woke up this morning, said my prayers, fixed breakfast for my family and took time to log into Spark, eat and drink my tea.
    Thank you SparkPeople!!! - 9/4/2013 10:27:27 AM
  • Well then, I am screwed!!! - 7/25/2013 2:51:42 PM
  • Exercise is the best stress reliever for me! And I have made good friends at my gym that help each other stay motivated:) - 7/24/2013 11:03:41 AM
  • There is a lot of sound advice in this article, but for me the #1 culprit of unexplained weight gain was CARBOHYDRATES. - 7/24/2013 9:34:03 AM
  • This article is so true. That's how I put on so much weight from stress dealing with family stuff all the time. So now I just go and exercise to stay focus. - 6/29/2013 8:13:05 AM
  • I agree that exercise is a great way to relieve stress. In addition, I have set my phone alarm to remind to sit down, relax, do some breathing techniques as well as meditate. What a Difference!!! - 5/23/2013 1:10:54 PM
  • i have found that exercise is even very helpful in combating stress.
    Keep mind and weight under control. - 10/5/2012 12:08:35 AM
  • UNDERTHEPALMS
    All of this is so true and so necessary to apply. I need to not make taking care of me and eating the right things one more stress as I totally have in the past. - 9/17/2012 6:13:32 PM
  • This is definitely true to my life. I put on so much weight during nursing school it wasn't even funny! On bad days at work we often find ourselves buying bags of mini candy bars for the break room for "stress relief". That doesn't even play into the difficulty losing weight while stressed, just the ease of gaining! - 7/3/2012 4:54:40 PM
  • Stress seems to hold a band over the weight and not only keep it from leaving, but also seems to attract any passing fat and hold onto it tightly. I really don't have any free time to sit back and relax. I try to 'make' the time, but it's just not there. I'm just stretched too thin. Any suggestions are always appreciated.

    Thanks guys!
    Tanya - 5/30/2012 8:19:22 PM

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