Emotional Stress and Weight Gain

Christine Gutierrez
woman overeating

Emotional stress is something all human beings face at one point or another. Perhaps you've lost your job after 21 dedicated years at the same company, or maybe you've gone through a breakup that has left you feeling directionless. No matter what the circumstances, emotional stress affects both the mind and the body. Recent research points to emotional stress as a major contributor to weight gain. It shapes not only how people think, but their behavior, as well.

Stress Eating

Stress is the body's natural response to tense or harmful situations. The situation can be either real or perceived, although in either case, the body will react to it as if it were real. So, if money is scarce and those bills are piling up, one common reaction is to eat in response to that stress. Over time, you develop habits. If your habit is to eat when stress kicks in, your body will naturally gain weight.

According to The Stress in America™ survey, results suggest stress influences people's eating habits:

  • Many adults report following unhealthy eating behaviors due to stress and say these behaviors can lead to undesirable consequences, such as feeling lazy, sluggish, or bad about their bodies.
  • Thirty-eight percent of adults say stress has caused them to eat unhealthy foods in the past month. Half of these adults (49 percent) report this occurs weekly or more frequently.
  • Thirty-three percent of adults who report overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress say they do so because it helps distract them from the stress.
  • Twenty-seven percent of adults say they eat to manage stress.

There is also data from the Food Addiction Summit that describes how stress reduces the body's ability to break down fat. This leads to an increase in weight gain, even without scarfing down an extra bag of Doritos. Recent research not only shows chronic stress increases people's cortisol levels, but that it also disrupts the body's natural cortisol rhythm. This ruptured cortisol rhythm is what wreaks so much havoc on your body. Among other effects, it:

  • Increases your blood sugar
  • Makes it harder for glucose to enter your cells
  • Reduces your ability to burn fat

Emotional Obesity

Emotions affect your mind, habits, and even your weight, according to Laura Coe, author and former VP of a Fortune 500 healthcare company, as well as a certified coach and a leading expert on emotional obesity. Coe believes emotional obesity is an epidemic fuelled by pressures, doubts, and false beliefs from the outside world.

On her website, Laure Coe describes emotional obesity as, "The layers and layers of thoughts, judgments, ideas, and fears that cover our authentic selves in the same way that layers of fat might cover our midsections." She goes on to state emotional obesity occurs because people accept messages they receive from the outside world but don't consciously question whether those ideas have value in their own lives.

Tools to Manage Emotional Eating

Here are three quick tips to help you manage your stress. That way, your stress won't manage you and your weight!

1. Meditate

Meditation is simpler than it seems. Setting aside time for conscious breathing and stillness has immense psychological, emotional, and physical benefits. Psychotherapist Terri Cole shares that meditation is a cornerstone of her therapy practice. She states, "Meditation lowers heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, meditation lowers cortisol levels, which [are] associated with stress and weight gain (especially around your waist)."

2. Cabinet Cleanse

A major part of the trick to eating right in times of stress is prevention. If you know stress triggers you to eat more and consume unhealthy foods, then open your cabinets and your fridge and get rid of all your junk food. List the top three foods you gravitate toward when you are stressed. Coca Cola? Cheese? Sweets? Whatever it is, write it down. Then, head to your cabinets and refrigerator and get rid of all your junk food. Try to keep your home full of foods that love you back: fresh greens, delicious fruits, water, teas, healthy grains like quinoa, and yogurt. A cabinet cleanse will prevent future meltdowns in your kitchen.

3. Move Your Tush

Movement is essential when it comes to boosting your overall health and reducing stress. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports: "Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem."

Even five minutes of aerobic exercise can stimulate anti-anxiety effects. A quick walk around the block will do the trick. Another option is to take a look at websites like oneOeight, an online membership site for yoga and healing. You can work out from home and choose the level of difficulty that suits you. The point here is to prioritize moving your tush. Exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Not only that, but it helps keep your weight in a healthy range.

Reducing Stress

Stress has some serious effects, not only on your mental health but your physical health, too. Stress is manageable with the right tools. As with everything in life, putting these tools into practice is the key. Schedule one thing into your calendar right now. Remember, all small steps add up. It might seem like you aren't doing much, but rest assured, you are. Make it your goal to take small daily action steps for your health. Your mind and body will thank you for it.

Emotional Stress and Weight Gain