When everything’s a mess, you’re a mess, too. And this means everything in your life – even your weight – can be negatively affected by the stress and turmoil of it all.
A recent study shows that the more stressful and chaotic your environment, the more likely you are to overeat and gain weight.
“If we can feel in control of our mental state, even in a stressful environment, we may be able to curb overeating.”
Researchers placed 101 participants in either a clean kitchen or a disorganized and noisy one and asked them to write about a time when they felt in control or a time when they felt out of control. Once finished, they were asked to taste and rate cookies, crackers, and carrots.
The participants in the chaotic kitchen ate the most cookies when they wrote about feeling out of control and the least when they wrote about being in control. The participants in the clean kitchen did not see a difference.
The results suggest that both environment and mind-set affect how much food we eat, so if we can feel in control of our mental state, even in a stressful environment, we may be able to curb overeating, including eating too much of those bad-for-you foods.
Another new study proved something we’ve known all along – stress is linked to weight gain.
By comparing the stress levels and weight of more than 2,500 men and women over 54, researchers found that levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair positively correlated to a wider waist and higher body mass index (BMI).
What is cortisol? It’s a stress hormone that increases glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, suppresses inflammation, and regulates blood pressure. It also plays a considerable role in metabolism, body composition, and fat gain.
These results suggest that continuous exposure to elevated cortisol levels might contribute to long-term obesity.
Stress-Management Tips for Weight Management
Of course, while we can’t control everything or avoid every stressful situation, we can control our environment and our response to stress.
One simple way is by keeping your kitchen clean and organized – something most of us already know how to do.
It’s the other stuff that gets a bit more challenging, so here are a few tips to help you manage stress to avoid stress eating and gaining weight:
Learn to Identify the Signs of a Stress-Out
If you know when the stress is coming on – when you start to feel anxious, angry or irritable, or tense – you can know that any immediate urge to snack is due to a stressful situation. Once you can identify the cause of your sudden cravings, you can try to distract yourself with another, more calming activity that doesn’t involve eating everything in sight.
Don’t Skip Meals
If you miss a meal, you’re more likely to be hungry and overcompensate later, especially when you’re feeling stressed out. Make sure you get breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A healthy breakfast that will set you on the right course for the rest of the day, and a bigger lunch followed by a lighter dinner can help you shed unwanted pounds.
Don’t Stash Unhealthy Snacks
Stress causes emotional eating, oftentimes causing cravings for “comfort foods” that tend to be high in sugar, salt, fat, and calories. If you usually reach for a snack when you’re stressed, keep unhealthy snacks out of reach. Instead, keep healthful, low-calorie options like fruits, vegetables, and nuts easily accessible. They’ll curb your hunger without widening your waistline.
Activities like yoga, stretching, deep breathing, meditation, and even getting a massage can help relieve the tension that comes with stress. They can also help you recharge mentally, so you can face stressful situations with a cool and calm head. And the more peaceful you feel, the less likely you are to binge on bad-for-you foods.
Getting physical can be a great stress-reliever, because it triggers the release of stress-reducing, feel-good endorphins in the body. It’s also been shown to boost mood and decrease the risk of depression. A bonus benefit is it burns calories, too!
Not getting enough sleep is a major cause of stress and has been linked to weight gain. Lack of sleep also causes the body to release cortisol, which, in turn, messes with your sleep cycle and makes it even more difficult to sleep. And being tired causes you to start craving things like junk food, making it a vicious and unhealthy cycle that leads to unwanted pounds.
Figure out how many hours of sleep you need, and set a schedule that ensures you catch those important Zs. Your brain and your body will thank you.
If you keep your stress under control, you’ll find it easier to control your eating habits and to develop healthy habits. So like they say, keep calm and carry on – being healthy and maintaining a healthy weight, that is.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.