Back to Document

Stress Can Pack on Pounds

Some people respond to impending deadlines, financial problems, relationship meltdowns, and other difficulties by eating less. But if you respond to added stress by eating more, you could end up with added pounds. Emotional eating may be caused by different triggers in men and women. 

Fortunately, you can take steps to avoid stress-related weight gain. To begin, consider which of the following behaviors you’re prone to, and then take steps to counteract your usual behavior.

Behavior: You don’t have time to prepare healthy meals.

If having a lot to do means less time to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy ingredients, you may be more likely to grab fast food or order high-calorie, high-fat takeout meals.

Instead: Make simple meals with few ingredients to cut cooking time and shopping lists. Invest in a cookbook with easy-to-prepare recipes or look online for recipes that can be prepared in 20 minutes or less.

Behavior: You crave foods high in refined carbs (bread, cookies, cakes), sugar, fat, or salt.

Many people hunger for sweets, salty snacks, and other processed foods when they’re stressed.

Instead: Reach for healthy high-fiber snacks with a bit of the tastes you crave. For example: oatmeal with raisins and a bit of brown sugar for sweet cravings; whole-wheat toast with peanut butter for fat cravings; and light microwave popcorn for salty cravings.

Behavior: You don’t have time to exercise.

As the demands on your schedule increase, time to exercise may be hard to find. Yet research has shown regular exercise plays a significant role in weight maintenance. Many people can’t lose weight or maintain a healthy weight without it.

Instead: Accept the fact that physical activity is essential for weight loss. Also, since it leads to the release of endorphins—compounds that have natural stress-fighting properties—remind yourself that you can’t afford to miss working out when you’re stressed. Then, look for ways to increase your physical activity—by taking the stairs or parking at the far end of the parking lot, for example.

Behavior: You’re not doing anything to manage your stress.

You may not be able to control the stressors in your life, but you can control how you respond to them.

Instead: Be proactive by learning and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga, or visualization.

Address your stress by working on solving your problems, calling a friend for advice, talking with your boss about your workload or challenges, or seeking help from a mental health professional who specializes in stress solutions.