Things are crazy at work, you’re overwhelmed at home, and your scale doesn’t have great news, either. You may be wondering, “Is stress making me gain weight?” Let’s figure out if it really is–and what we can do to counter it.
Links between Stress and Weight Gain
- Chronic, long-term stress boosts hunger, which can lead to increased weight gain if more food is consumed more frequently.
- When we’re under a lot of pressure, our body often kicks into “fight or flight” mode. Also known as survival mode, our chemical responses when we’re in this state of mind convince us that we need fuel to survive. So even if we’ve eaten recently, we tend to eat (or overeat) until those feelings go away or lessen (because our bodies are tricked into believing they need to replenish calories when they don’t).
- Cortisol–“the stress hormone” is heightened in the bloodstream when things get tense. Your blood sugar drops, you crave sweet and fatty foods. These foods calm the stress hormones, which is why it’s so easy for eating these “comfort foods” to become a habit.
How to Decrease Stress-Related Weight Gain
If you think stress is a primary reason for your weight gain, don’t worry. There are things you can do to break the cycle. Here’s what we suggest:
- Practice focus and determination: Remind yourself that stress is temporary. Have a plan, so that when you feel pressure and anxiety, have a plan. Think of some things you enjoy, that will also help you relax, so your cortisone levels can lower without over-eating. Here are a few suggestions:
- Walking, or other physical activity: Physical activity not only keeps you away from overeating, it releases endorphins, which counter the stress that makes you crave unhealthy food. Just 20 minutes a day a few times a week will significantly improve your health, and aid your nutrition/weight goals
- Listening to your favorite music: According to research, just an hour of reading can reduce your stress levels by two-thirds.
- Reading a book you enjoy: While soft, instrumental, or classical music is recommended, any music you like is great for stress relief, which keeps those cortisol levels (and cravings) at bay
- Prayer or meditation: Spiritual practice has long been known to reduce stress, and boost well-being. It’s a great complement to a balanced diet and regular exercise
- Healthy, regular sleep habits: Getting 8 hours of sleep a night not only helps you feel refreshed in the morning, it reduces stress significantly.
- Nutritious snacks: Dried fruit, nuts, Greek Yogurt, and other healthy treats are great to have on hand when you need to take the edge off your hunger without consuming too much sugar and fat.
If stress is making you gain weight, there’s a lot you can do to keep the stress–and the cravings–from taking control!