Is Stress Making You Fat?

Stress doesn’t have to make you gain weight. Learn about the triggers and how to control them. Here’s how to fight back like our ancestors did.

Our ancestors ate to survive. Us? We eat when we’re stressed, angry, bored, depressed, frustrated, busy, not busy enough, getting together with friends or ticked off that the Lions lost.

The Trigger That Causes the Most Trouble

Stress may actually be the eating trigger that causes the most trouble. When you have chronic stress, your body steps up its production of cortisol and insulin. Your appetite increases, and so do the chances you’ll engage in “hedonistic” eating in the form of high-calorie sweets and fats.

Your goal: to keep your feel-good hormones level. That will provide a steady state of satisfaction so that you never experience those huge hormonal highs and lows that make you search for good-for-your-brain, bad-for-your-waist foods. The following tips will help.

Sleep Yourself Skinny

When your body doesn’t get the seven to nine hours of sleep it needs every night to become rejuvenated, it looks for other ways to compensate for the lack of feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine. How does it typically do this? Sugary foods will give you an immediate release of these chemicals. So make sure you get enough shut-eye. It can help keep you thin

Variety: The Spice of Life?

Foods have different effects on your stomach, your blood and your brain. Here are some that may help your hunger and the brain chemicals that affect it.

  • Turkey: All that tryptophan increases serotonin, improving your mood and combating depression. It also helps you resist cravings for simple carbs.
  • Fish and walnuts: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are brain boosters and cholesterol clearers. But they’ve also been shown to help with depression in pregnant women. Many of us have low omega-3 intake, eating foods that contain the acids may help lift our spirits and keep us from reaching for a doughnut.
  • Green tea: Catechins in green tea may inhibit the breakdown of fats and stop hunger triggers. One study shows drinking three glasses of green tea a day can help reduce body weight. The tea also increases metabolism.


Variety may be the spice of life, but it can also lead to overeating. Eliminate the choices for at least one meal a day. Pick the meal you rush through most and automate it. For most people, it’s lunch. So find a healthy lunch you really like and have it every day. Yes, every day. Research shows that putting a cap on the variety of foods and tastes you experience will help you control your weight.

Substitutes That Satisfy

Eating can be an emotional action. Keep healthful contingency foods nearby, things like V8 juice, a handful of nuts, pieces of fruit, cut-up veggies or even a little guacamole. And clear the fridge and pantry of waist-killing goodies.

Walk This Way

Walk for 30 minutes — it’s easy, doable and maintainable, and it’s a first step out of the tornado and back into the game of life.

Be Touched

On both a physical and an emotional level, seek out positive interactions with other people. Increased amounts of oxytocin (the "social bonding" hormone) may decrease blood pressure and lower the effects of stress.

Savour a Bit

If you’re going to eat something that’s bad for you, enjoy it. Savor it. Roll it around in your mouth. We suggest taking a piece of dark, 70 percent cocoa chocolate and meditating. It’s a small but effective way of feeling good. Bad foods are okay — once in a while.

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