How to reduce stress to lose weight?
May 28, 2012 11:35 AM   Subscribe

If you have a tendency to gain weight due to stress I'd like to know how you recognized this was THE reason for weight gain and found a solution that worked for you. Please don't ask questions that tend to speculate or diagnose the cause of weight gain (no issues with food/exercise) . I want to hear from you if you (or someone you knew) struggled to keep your stress low, which you knew led to your weight gain and how you went about it (without using any drugs!).
posted by xm to Grab Bag (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This was actually pretty simple for me. I noticed that when I was upset or stressed out, I usually gained a few pounds. This was due to emotional over-eating, specifically of junk foods like chunks of chocolate or ice cream. Often, I didn't even realize that I was over-eating at the time, I was just looking for some sort of comfort due to being overworked and stressed out. The solution for me personally was to recognize my tendency to emotionally overeat and replace the junk foods with healthier choices that actually provide some nutrients, like good cheese and crackers when I was craving something crunchy or fresh berries when I wanted something sweet.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 11:53 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I sleep less and avoid working out when I'm stressed. Working out is a whole new hassle-- exercise clothes, carving time out of a packed schedule, finding my headphones, etc.-- on top of whatever else is going on. Lack of sleep makes me tired, makes me rely on sugary coffee drinks, and makes my metabolism just that much slower. This combination leads to some weight gain even if I'm not stress-eating/making poor food choices.

I've done a variety of online programs where you track your food intake and exercise output and this combination has made me more aware of my choices.

Ways I try to keep my stress low: proper sleep hygiene, meaning no caffeine after 5 or so at night, no tossing and turning for more than half an hour, no alcohol just before bed; making myself at least walk on the treadmill if I'm not going to run; making sure I have time for the things I want to do in any given week if not day.
posted by RainyJay at 11:57 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I gain weight (or can't lose weight) when I'm stressed because I emotionally eat. But I also don't get enough sleep when I'm stressed and lack of sleep could lead to weight gain; I personally found when I am dieting that it is crucial to make sure I am getting enough sleep - my weight loss stalls out, or I re-gain, when I don't. I use melatonin to regulate my sleep; I also don't eat after 8 PM, and don't watch TV or use the computer at night before going to sleep.
posted by flex at 11:59 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a vicious cycle for me - I'm stressed, so I want comfort food and/or don't want to shop/cook good food, which makes me feel worse, so I want fast easy tasty stuff even more, and I don't feel good so I don't want to exercise, and onward up the scale.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:23 PM on May 28, 2012

And the flipside of that is that I have to be aware of this pattern and break it - not have crappy food in the house, HAVE good food in the house, and bully myself into making good choices for the couple of weeks it takes to break the cycle. Making myself do healthy things lowers my stress, which helps me do healthy things. It's a bitch, really.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:25 PM on May 28, 2012

I don't emotionally eat, I absent-mindedly eat, but stress still causes me to gain weight.

I'm typically stressed out because I'm really busy (or at least feel really busy) and I get caught up in work and lose track more than usual of just how much I've eaten. I also fall off in spending extra time to shop and prepare something healthy.

The way I've found to maintain or keep losing weight is to be very disciplined about tracking - don't just think "ok, I'll have this cookie now," or worse, sit down with the package of cookies at the desk while you work (my big sin).

Weigh/portion out everything, write it down and make sure to reserve time to shop/cook (or at least eat in healthier sit-down restaurants). Being very diligent about tracking keeps me from being caught up in work and losing mental track of what I've eaten that day. You don't need to set yourself hard goals if you're absent-minded muncher like me - just the act of recording and seeing what you've already eaten will keep you from nomming away without thinking.
posted by clerestory at 1:49 PM on May 28, 2012

Most of the answers so far seem to indicate this path: stress--> (bad/emotional) eating --> weight gain. And its so helpful to know I am not the only one who falls off the wagon regarding taking the time to shop/cook under stress.

I am also looking for insights that suggest this route: stress --> increase in coritsol/anxiety/other (other than food/exercise, that is) ---> (ultimately) weight gain

I'd really appreciate if you can share more thoughts on this.

posted by xm at 2:44 PM on May 28, 2012

Well, the piece I linked above discusses both the "hormones" angle & the need for REM sleep:
When you lack sleep, he explains, “your metabolism slows down. Your body is trying to conserve energy stores” to carry you through the longer period of wakefulness. That slowdown triggers the release of cortisol, a hormone that your body secretes in response to stress and that boosts your appetite: Your body senses it needs more energy, so it demands more food. At the same time, Breus says, sleep deprivation causes your body to release more ghrelin, the hormone that signals hunger, and less leptin, the hormone that tells your body it’s full. When those hormones are out of whack, your body wants more food and lacks the sensitivity to know when to stop eating...

And that’s just the hormones. Breus notes that a healthful night’s sleep — about 7.5 hours for most adults — provides opportunity for your body to enjoy five 90-minute sleep cycles, each of which includes a deeply restful rapid-eye movement, or REM, phase. As he explains it, those cycles include increasing amounts of REM as your sleep progresses, so losing out on one or two sets of REM at the end of your sleep time digs deep into your total REM time. As it happens, Breus says, you burn more calories during REM than in other parts of the sleep cycle. Those unburned calories, he says, can add up to weight gain.

I personally haven't used meditation or yoga for stress (I mean, specifically to control my weight) - lack of sleep interfering with weight loss is my particular insight - but I've heard "meditative/relaxation exercises helps with weight loss". Here's Cortisol Connection: Tips on Managing Stress and Weight - "Many types of aerobic and anaerobic exercise have been shown to be effective interventions in reducing or managing stress. Some of the popular ‘mindful’ exercise programs such as yoga and Tai Chi (or Tai Chi Chaun) are also recommended for stress management. Meditation, progressive relaxation, deep breathing, and visualization are methods that can be effective in decreasing stress-induced symptoms."
posted by flex at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm in the middle of dealing with this myself.

First, I went in for my physical last month, and found that my weight is on a steady climb, though I exercise regularly and watch my diet.

The flip side is that I've been in a mind-numbing job for the past two years that stresses me out, and I don't sleep terribly well as a result.

The doc told me that the stress could be a big factor. He has also scheduled me for a sleep study, because sleep apnea could contribute to the problem.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 5:28 AM on May 29, 2012

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