Health & Wellness Articles

Beat Stress, Weigh Less

The Connection Between Stress and Weight Gain

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By Jennipher Walters, Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor         
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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

  • Everybody experiences stress, and certainly it can be a CONTRIBUTOR to weight gain (or weight loss, but stress should not be made into an excuse. I maintain my weight under extremely stressful times, and I know many other people who do too. - 3/25/2016 9:24:47 AM
  • ETHELMERZ
    Stress is a killer, you can try hard to learn to live with it, but as long as you are alive, you will never "beat" it.........no matter what "experts" say or write.......it is what it is. - 3/25/2016 8:20:21 AM
  • Weight gain is not the only problem caused by stress. I know people who were normal weight but had other problems such as high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol. Although they had been on medication for years, within 6 months of retiring, they were off their medication. They had indicated they hadn't really changed their diet or exercise pattern, but they were enjoying life a whole lot more because they could now spend more time with their family (especially the grandchildren). - 3/25/2016 8:15:39 AM
  • Stress for musicians during the holidays is normal. We go from rehearsal to rehearsal, performance to performance, Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas Day services. That doesn't include our usual holiday activities as well as our abnormal normal lives. After New Year's we usually collapse. - 12/8/2015 10:52:39 AM
  • GRAYGRANNY rolf. The only way you escape stress is die. Who wants that??? raises hand pleaaaase?? I have to learn to rest on my faith more!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    !! - 9/12/2015 5:46:19 PM
  • The evolutionary reference is completely unnecessary in explaining how our bodies react to stress--so let that little reference slide. Fact is our hormones go crazy when we're stressed. We gain weight because we take in more than we burn, and vice versa. Have you ever seen a fat hostage? They have got to be under more stress than any of us have ever experienced. Bottom line: find ways to deal with stress other than eating more calories. 8-) - 9/12/2015 1:19:21 PM
  • This describes a connection between stress and eating more and/or exercising less, not necessarily linking stress directly to weight gain. Tell me what causes pounds to pile on when I'm not changing my eating or exercise habits. - 8/22/2015 8:51:41 PM
  • I don't believe in the theory of evolution so you lost me early on in the article. - 3/26/2015 2:20:54 PM
  • EX-SKINNY60
    Went to the doctor for my high cholesterol check up yesterday, and found out that I have gained 17 pounds!!! STRESS over the last two months did it. Our daughter's wedding, our son's wedding had a "runaway bride" (so sad), I caught the flu strain that was NOT in the shot this year, my husband retired, my last child at home needs to finish high school. SO what is the solution to all this stress...going BACK on the wagon, logging in to my Spark People again, and exercising, exercising, exercising. - 3/25/2015 9:51:25 AM
  • Gender bias?? Please; the abstract reported the outcomes of the study BASED ON THE DATA. So if the data doesn't support your narrative, the data should be altered?
    That's just nuts. - 3/12/2015 9:41:42 AM
  • ETHELMERZ
    Tired of tips to relieve stress, reading about how to do something really doesn't change anything, counseling, etc., in the end, you still feel it, and these kinds of articles here and in magazines, etc., really don't do a danged thing, in fact, they stress you out more. - 11/28/2014 11:26:30 AM
  • 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

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