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Overweight and Stressed? Watch Out!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Do you often feel like you're being pulled in a million different directions? You've got deadlines at work, it's your night for the kids soccer carpool, you need to squeeze in a workout and there's no food in the refrigerator for dinner. Whatever your responsibilities happen to be, it's enough to get completely stressed out. But did you know that if you're overweight and stressed, you're more likely to gain weight?

A new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that if participants already had a higher BMI, the chance of weight gain was greater when they were faced with stress in their lives. When faced with similar stressors, thinner people tended not to gain weight.

The sources of stress for men and women were slightly different. Women were more affected by stressful family relationships, finances and job demands, while men were more affected by job demands and lack of decision-making authority. Because the sources of stress for women came from a variety of sources (family, job, etc.) researchers theorize that they are more at risk for weight gain (as a result of the stress) than men.

Too much stress can cause the body to release large amounts of coritsol, a hormone that can slow down your metabolism. Research shows that chronic stress can also promote fat storage, and increase cravings for sugary, high-fat comfort foods. Do you notice that when you're stressed, you tend to eat more or are easily tempted by foods you know you shouldn't be eating? I know I am.

Fortunately, there are lots of options when it comes to dealing with stress in a healthy way. Exercising, deep breathing, reading a book or just taking a quiet walk are all ways that I cope with the stress in my life.

What stress management techniques work well for you? Do you find that the stress in your life impacts your weight loss progress? How so?

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I can definitely relate. My best strategy for dealing with it is exercise. Report
I know this to be true. I was having a hard time losing weight (just one of the many times I've lost weight, only to gain it back). A friend told me that stress causes weight gain or slows down the metabolism. I didn't think about it. I only had 20 pounds to lose at the time. But I started to change up my response to things and watched my reaction and let go of some obligations. That freed me up and the weight came off. I also noticed that there was a time when I didn't really watch what I ate, but I was committed to living a stress-free life. That (blissful) moment in my life amazed me. I did not gain weight..until I had a change in my life and the stress hit me. Then there was the stress of losing the weight and as quickly as possible..which added more weight. So I am believer that stress HOLDS and adds weight.

I exercise regularly. I focus on me more. I pray. I track my nutrition and fitness goals and reward myself for my progress. I have a good laugh once a day. Did I say I pray? I allow myself to cry and feel. I write. I take naps. There isn't one thing I do. But I do look for ways to manage my stress and worry to stay focused. I also think about how healthy and conditioned my body is becoming. This time will be permanent. I just decided. Report
This is an excellent article. When I feel stress, I usually sit at the computer and find a good game to play online. It is very soothing. Also, when baseball season is in, I can watch a game and relax and forgot about things that are troubling me. If I let it linger, then I will begin to have setbacks in my weight loss. I don't sleep well, so I won't be able to get up and exercise in the morning. When I get home in the evening and cook, I don't have the energy to workout. Not realizing that working out will increase my energy. Report
I had a heart attack at 50 --way too young according to the doctors. Although I do struggle with high cholesterol, I firmly believe that chronic stress due to a miserable, antagonistic work environment for five years was the real cause of the problem. I've recently changed my job and my living situation. Let's hope my health gets better. Report
I pray about it. If it is something I can fix, I get working on it. If it is something I have no control over.. no matter what.. I let go and let God.

To relieve my stress when it is high - I walk! Report
I'm currently experiencing a period of very high stress with my job. Last year at this time, I would have been steadily eating through a giant bag of cheetos every day. This year, I've given myself permission to stress eat if I need to - knowing it will delay my progress - with the caveat that the comfort foods must have some nutritional value. So I'm indulging in lots of fruit (cherries, raisins, grapes...anything that can be stretched out) and lots of nuts and seeds.

Once I get home, I de-stress by lying down for a snuggle with my kitty for 20 minutes and then exercising for a few minutes (I have had to give myself permission to forego the 60-90 minute workouts for 30-40 minutes) before fixing supper and falling asleep. Report
When I stress I GAIN weight. When I went ot buy my wedding dress I made them order it one size bigger (its was easier to take in then to find material to take out). LOL
My doctor prescribed to me that when something stressing comes up stop breath and count to 10. At work I have made a conscience effort to do this and to really breath, close my eyes and I feel like this has helped some. Wine ofcourse helps much better LOL! Report
When I'm at home (and if I have time), I'll settle down to a goody comedy, either a sitcom (or something like The Colbert Report) or movie. Laughter really is the best medicine, for me, when it comes to stress. Also, I have just about every Jane Austen adaptation on DVD and I love to watch those movies over and over. They seem so peaceful and calming--and there's always a happy ending!! If I just have a few minutes, meditation (or prayer!), and short relaxing or restorative yoga practices really help me--especially breathing exercises. Report
Well were to start ..1 I get away for everone ..2 i have to give my self a break !!!
3 I meet a friend and we go for a long walk .. anything that can take my mind off what ever it is that has stressed me out.. Report
Well, I haven't been able to find a stress reliever to use at the time of stress. A couple of months ago, I was "fixing" the toilet and the water flow arm came off in my hand. Cussing doesn't help me so I quite calmly and rat...well, I can't say rationally, but with deliberation decided to kick the foot of the toilet. Unfortunately, my shin connected with the bowl long before my foot came near the toilet's base. That was quite a bruise, I can tell you! LOL

What I do find is that meditating regularly helps keep stress reactions from happening in the first place . Even if it is just once a week (though more is better faster). After a few weeks of regular meditation, I find that things just don't get to me the way they do without meditation.

So, for those who say that as soon as they are back at their desk or back in whatever stressor that bothers them the stress comes back, I'd recommend regular meditation. It doesn't really matter what kind, TM, visualization, focusing on a candle flame, etc., or for how long (even 10 minutes will help). It is the act of regularly separating myself from the world that helps me find peace. Report
You know, I read a lot about stress factors, dealing with stress, stress relief and how stress can affect our health. But, I notice that it never says what to do when, 20 minutes after you have exercised to help relieve stress, that kink in your neck, the clenching of the jaws and lower back pain come back because, shocker, the stress relief of exercise has worn off and you are one big stress ball again!

I make sure to get up out of my seat each day several times a day, I'll step outside for 5 minutes, just to see the sun and breathe. I go to the bathroom farthest from my desk... and the minute I sink back into that seat, i feel it again. It doesn't even crep back, it hits me like a mack truck.

So, those of us who have like 80 things in our life that we stress over, no matter what we do to relieve the stress, it is always temporary--what are we supposed to do? Is there no way to really deal with stress, without seeking professional help, since let's face it, finances are a stressor and paying for help with stress will only make life more stressful because the $$ for that help is straining the bank account.

sorry to be so pessimistic, but I have been a stressball for the last 3 years or so. I have chronic lower back and neck pain. I really do try to see the bright side of life as much as possible, but something always happens to give me a big old reality check. Report
Britomart, you are right. Emotional eaters will find any reason to eat, be it stress from too much work, the economy, their difficult teenagers, or the loss of their best friend to a new town where they had to move. Let's make it all better and eat a CHOCOLATE CAKE, instead of other people like you point out, who would go for a walk or bike ride or various other ways to deal with stress. Report
BRITOMART - It's important to realize that you're reading a blog post about a news article about a press release about the research. The researchers aren't positing that having a high BMI will CAUSE you to gain weight when under stress. They are simply reporting that people with a high BMI under stress gain weight, while people with a normal BMI under similar stress do not. This study was hardly a "micro-study" as they followed a cohort of over 1300 people for 10 years. And in fact, the message that they end their paper with is not that the stress hormone cortisol leads to weight gain (which has been well documented in MANY other studies), but that learning better coping mechanisms for stress may help to prevent this weight gain.

You're absolutely correct that correlation is not the same as causation. But seeing a correlation does have SOME meaning. The information is still valuable. And the claims of causation are NOT being made by the researchers, just implied by the string of lay people in between.

Here's a link to the actual abstract:
I think that study put the cart before the horse. People who use food to cope with stress will eat more when stressed. People who cope with stress in other ways will overdo those when stressed. Observing a phenomenon shouldn't be the same as reaching a cause/effect conclusion.

While cortisol may be the cause of stress-weight gain, the evidence is still too hazy for THAT cause/effect to be so strongly drawn. The problem with micro studies is they tend to mistake trees for forest.

Interesting, but no gold ring. Report
When I get overwhelmed I face a wall, close my eyes and take a few DEEP breaths. Funny how that works for me! Also, if it just seems that thing just keep piling up for me to accomplish, yeah, I'll freak and scream, but then I take a mental step back and order things from most important to least important and take the day like that. Just looking at it one cup at a time, not the entire pitcher full. Report
I often don't eat enough when i'm stressed. so i need to watch my calories and get to 1200-1400 cal. As for stress reliever: i've got one which is not suitable to be posted LOL otherwise any form of exercise relaxes me Report
Wow! do I know this feeling lately. I feel like I am on high demand and it has been driving me crazy. I was worried about weight gain but I find that certain stresses take my appetite instead of making me want to eat which is just as bad but somehow have made it through. Trying to make myself eat and not give up my work outs. It's been a real struggle. I haven't figured out the best way to de-stress yet so maybe I will take some of the tips here and try them. Report
I stress all the time, it's just part of my life. I guess if you stick to your diet and trying breathing and calming techniques it won't be so easy to gain weight! Report
I am stress most of the time I am a single mom with 2 kids and have alot of responsibilities I love my kids but tend to get over whelmed with the day to day life. I am working on it and trying to get it together but some days are harder then others Report
I get stressed when I have too much on my plate.
I worry about every single person in my family and as a grandmother that list is growing daily. I am also in the sandwich generation, my parents are still living, but their health is declining.
I do know that if I am not mindful of what is going on around me I turn to sweets when life gets hectic.
Here are some ways that I cope with stress that are healthier than sweets.
A good cry- I really do feel better after a cry. Sometimes I need to cry and can't, so I rent a chick flick and it does the trick.
a nap
being able to talk it out
a visit to an LDS temple
going for a LONNNG walk
write in my journal- my journal is my therapist
sleep- however during times of stress sleep doesn't always come easy Report
It is amazing how family can be such blessing on one hand & yet such a source of stress on the other. For some reason many of us mothers (grandmothers) feel it is our job to make everyone feel safe, loved & all those other good things. Rarely do we worry about ourselves. Do agree a good quiet walk is a great stress release. Report
This is the first time I have ever heard of cortisol. That may explain a lot.Job pressures have been tremendous lately and I am unable to sleep properly and I am not much fun to be around. But my eating has been fairly decent, though the cravings are horrendous!
I have not exceeded my calories even once for several weeks and yet, my weight is staying the same. And I exercise every day at least an hour, so I couldn''t figure why I was staying the same weight. Just more stress I thought, and now I know what is happening. Now all I need is a way to get less stressed. I had A massage last night and it seemed to help , but now I am back and I feel the stress already. My doctor has said that will pass but I'm not sure. Report
I can really relate to the stress factor. When I am stressed out, usually by job related issues, I tend to munch more, and head straight to the "comfort" food, usually sweet or sweet and salty, and you know what food that always intails.
I am trying to replace that food with more of the crunchy variety, usually raw veggies or crunchy or sweeter fruit - as in apples, strawberries or particularly this time of year blueberries. Strawberries and blueberries are great food, as well as full of lots of great nutrients, and since they are in smaller packages, you can stretch out the time it takes to eat them if you eat them whole, one at a time. Report
I totally agree. I am a single parent of two who works two jobs and does volunteer work at my church. These responsibilities, combined with my children's activities make my life quite busy and somewhat stressful. My weight is much better controlled when I'm fortunate enough to work one job rather than two. I'm not sure if its because when I'm not so busy, I have more time to make better health choices and more time to exercise. Report
That article explains a lot!! Since my stress comes from having too many things to be done and not enough time to do them, it's hard sometimes to take the time to go on another walk, yet I know that walking away from the stress, even out to the parking lot and back can help. I know that since I started getting up earlier in the morning and walking my stress level has definately decreased. It's nice to know that the cravings for comfort food are natural. Thanks for the info. Report
Since "wine" is generally not considered a stress management technique, I can't list that one. (lol) Instead, I've found just walking to be a real de-stresser. It doesn't have to be fast walking, either, just walking. There's something about the physical motion of moving away from whatever was causing you stress that I find helpful. A couple of jaunts around the block and I can take a deep breath and go back into the house or the office with a calmer attitude. Report
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