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Worries and Weight

No surprise to me that there’s a high correlation between stress and weight gain. Slim folks get anxious and overwhelmed too—but don’t feel like eating. Unfortunately, stress and worry more often cause overeating, feeding into and off one another (pun intended), so that my work is to teach overweight worry warts how to scale back their agita to improve their relationship with food.

“Stress can cause people who are already overweight to pack on more pounds,” says Jason P. Block, MD, MPH and colleagues (Tufts Health Letter, 10/09), concluding that “subjects with a higher body-mass index (BMI) at the start of [his] study ‘who reported greater psychosocial stress, gained more weight’, whereas this pattern was not evident for those with lower baseline body mass indexes” (American Journal of Epidemiology, 7/15/09). He also notes a difference between the kinds of stress encountered by men and women—males gained weight worrying about bills, lack of autonomy, and job status, while women put on pounds in response to work demands, family and financial problems, and “perceived constraints in life.” According to Block, stress may boost weight by elevating the level of the hormone cortisol which has been linked to obesity, or by affecting the balance among several hormones that together regulate appetite.

There are two approaches to lessen stress: eliminate or reduce stress-inducing situations or change your reaction to stressors. This is why being good to yourself is so vital. Effective self-care involves everything from making choices that do not overwhelm and frustrate you to relaxing and taking time for yourself. This stress-weight correlation speaks directly to the points I make in NICE GIRLS FINISH FAT—PUT YOURSELF FIRST AND CHANGE YOUR EATING FOREVER. The book focuses on learning to say no and reduce external stress as well as teaching you how to relate to others and the world around you in a more self-nurturing way.

Think about whether your stress level is impacting your eating. What external stressors can you eliminate? Which ones can you reduce? Mind that you’re not stuck in all-or-nothing thinking. Even a slight reduction makes a huge difference. How can you change your beliefs to be less anxious and overwhelmed, to see life as less negative and more positive? How can you carve out at least 15 minutes a day to focus on your own physical and emotional needs? Who can you say no to in order to have more self-time? Who can help you so you don’t feel so put upon? Lessen your stressors and improve your stress response, and I bet you’ll find you’re eating more sanely and healthily.