When you're under stress, you may find it harder to eat healthy. Also, during times of particularly high stress, you may eat in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs — sometimes called stress eating or emotional eating. And you may be especially likely to eat high-calorie foods during times of stress, even when you're not hungry.
To prevent weight gain during stress and reduce the risk of obesity, get a handle on your stress. When you feel less stressed and more in control of your life, you may find it easier to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits.
Try these stress management techniques to combat stress-related weight gain:
- Recognize the warning signs of stress, such as anxiety, irritability and muscle tension.
- Before eating, ask yourself why you're eating — are you truly hungry or do you feel stressed or anxious?
- If you're tempted to eat when you're not hungry, find a distraction.
- Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. If you're in a hurry, grab a piece of fruit on the way out the door.
- Eat a healthy diet, such as whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Aim to include most food groups in your meals.
- Identify comfort foods and keep them out of your home or office.
- Keep a record of your behavior and eating habits so that you can look for patterns and connections — and then figure out how to overcome them.
- Learn problem-solving skills so that you can anticipate challenges and cope with setbacks.
- Practice relaxation skills, such as yoga, stretching, massage, deep breathing or meditation.
- Engage in regular physical activity or exercise.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Get encouragement from supportive friends and family.
If you try stress management techniques on your own but they don't seem to be working, consider seeking professional help through psychotherapy or counseling.
Aug. 18, 2020
- Listening to the warning signs of stress. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress-signs.aspx. Accessed Feb. 21, 2017.
- Stress and your health fact sheet. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/stress-your-health.html. Accessed Feb. 20, 2017.
- Harding JL, et al. Psychosocial stress is positively associated with body mass index gain over 5 years: Evidence from the Longitudinal AusDiab Study. Obesity. 2014;22:277.
- Ulrich-Lai YM, et al. Stress exposure, food intake and emotional state. Stress. 2015;18:381.
- Bray GA. Obesity in adults: Behavioral therapy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 20, 2017.
- Sinha R, et al. Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction. Biological Psychiatry. 2013;73:827.
- Yau YH, et al. Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva Endocrinologica. 2013;38:255.
- Zeratsky KA (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. March 2, 2017.