Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Hidden Relationship Between Stress and Weight Gain

Stress often prompts people to respond in unhealthy ways such as drinking alcohol, eating poorly, or becoming physically inactive.  (How can I find time to exercise when I need to work so much to finish this deadline?)  These unhealthy coping mechanisms damage the body in addition to the wear and tear of the stress itself.

Many people, when under stress, reach for “comfort foods.”  According to a 2008 survey, 48 percent of Americans reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods when stressed.  People who are stressed are also more likely to engage in binge eating.   Perhaps this is why “desserts” is “stressed” spelled backwards! 

Excessive eating due to stress may be one of the reasons that at least 64 percent of adults in the United States are overweight and 26.1 percent are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Obesity is defined as being more than 20 percent above your ideal body weight.

Several years ago, when I was going through a very stressful time, I found myself reaching for anything crunchy and salty, such as potato chips, Doritos or almonds.  It wasn’t that I was hungry; I just found it relaxing to eat a tasty, crunchy snack.  Yet I had somehow convinced myself that I was really hungry.  Even though it wasn’t that healthy, I would rationalize my unhealthy food choices by saying, “I deserve a yummy treat for having to deal with all of these pressures.” 

When I began studying stress management, I learned that I could substitute something healthy such as air popped popcorn or low fat pretzels.  I also began taking 10 minute walks around the block.  Getting fresh air and a little exercise calmed me down and elevated my mood.  I found I wasn’t so tempted to eat unhealthy foods.

When you are under stress, what “comfort foods” are you tempted to reach for?  Have you been able to find a healthier snack or a healthy stress reducing activity as a substitute?  Share your experience in the box below.

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