Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. Examining the Link Between Stress and Weight Gain

    Stress and Weight

    Traffic. Work. Groceries. Bills. Stress is a part of life — and most of us face it daily. Thankfully, we tend to be proficient in managing all those common day-to-day stressors.

    But when stress gets overwhelming, it can make maintaining a healthy weight very challenging. Below, we examine the link between stress and weight gain and provide some methods for managing stress better, which is particularly helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.

    The Physical Process Stress Causes

    The World Health Organization defines stress as a “state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation.” Every time we encounter something challenging, our adrenal glands release a hormone called cortisol and adrenaline to release glucose into our bloodstream. This process happens to help us “escape” the situation. As soon as the “danger” is over, our blood sugar drops and the adrenaline wears off, causing cortisol to work to boost your energy supply again.

    This powerful chemical reaction is necessary to help us go about our daily lives, but it can also cause cravings as our blood sugar levels spike and drop. Many of us tend to cope by snacking, causing our bodies to store the excess sugar as fat.

    The Effect of Stress on the Metabolism

    Cortisol is also the hormone responsible for slowing down your metabolism. A 2015 study found that women who had experienced one or more stressful situations 24 hours before eating a high-calorie meal burned 104 fewer calories than those who hadn’t.

    Unhealthy Behaviors Linked to Stress

    The link between stress and weight goes beyond the physiological, too. Researchers have also linked stress to unhealthy habits that include:

    Poor Diet: The more the stress piles on, the more drained we feel, and the less likely we are to plan in advance. This tends to lead us to “convenient” eating with things like fast food and junk food.

    Emotional Eating: If you find yourself reaching for the bag of potato chips between meals or scouting the refrigerator late at night during especially stressful times, you’re likely eating emotionally. This is a common stress response, as overeating may provide us with temporary relief while simultaneously making weight loss more challenging.*

    Meal Skipping: On the flip side, you may find that more stress causes you to eat less, particularly if you’re managing many challenging things at once. You may forget to eat a meal because you’re too busy, or you may not feel like eating at all. Then, you may overeat later to compensate for the calories you missed out on earlier in the day. Either way, maintaining a healthy weight is even more of a grind.*

    Exercise Avoidance: When you’re stressed from something going on in life or the many things on your to-do list, exercise may be one of the first things to take the back burner. Exasperating the issue is that many of us sit behind a desk all day or spend hours in traffic getting to and from work, meaning less time for getting much-needed movement in.

    Sleep Disturbances: Stress and sleeplessness go hand-in-hand. No matter how exhausted you are, there’s a good chance you can recall plenty of nights where you laid awake in bed with your mind’s wheels spinning. Not getting enough rest can create an extremely unhealthy cycle, as the resulting exhaustion during the day may slow your metabolism and reduce self-discipline when it comes to eating right and exercising.

    How to Crack the Stress-Weight Cycle

    No matter how much you have on your plate, breaking the stress cycle is more than possible. It’s also vital to prioritize yourself; doing so will help you maintain a healthy weight while making stress more manageable. Here are some straightforward ways to help you crack the vicious stress-weight cycle:

    Schedule Your Me-Time

    Me-time is a trendy way to describe the time you set aside for yourself. This can be time for exercise, meditation, journaling, reading, you name it. Give yourself at least 30 minutes of me-time daily, and treat it like you would any other appointment or meeting. Block the time out in your schedule, and stick to it.

    Practice Mini Stress-Relief Strategies Throughout the Day

    Whether it’s taking an hour to do yoga, 30 minutes to go for a walk, 5 minutes to meditate, or 10 seconds to take a deep breath, incorporating mini stress-relief activities can work wonders toward improving your ability to cope with stress. Any of these activities will lower your cortisol levels, which might also help you maintain a healthy weight.

    Prioritize a Healthy Diet

    The things you put into your body matter — and they matter in a significant way. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to avoid dehydration. Choose wholesome foods packed with nutrient-dense calories to keep you full and focused. If you struggle to find the time to properly plan your meals, consider a healthy meal delivery service like Diet-to-Go.

    At Diet-to-Go, our mission is to make healthy eating easy. We deliver chef-crafted, restaurant-quality meals directly to your door. We do all the planning and prep, so all you have to do is heat and eat!

    Do you have a coping method you use to manage stress? Help others by sharing it in the comments below!


    Author: Caitlin H
    Diet-to-Go Community Manager

    Caitlin is the Diet-to-Go community manager and an avid runner. She is passionate about engaging with others online and maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. She believes moderation is key, and people will have the most weight loss success if they engage in common-sense healthy eating and fitness.


    Nutrition Science
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