Diane May Nutrition Blog

Stress and Weight Gain

February 11th, 2015

Everyone has stress in their life, and its easier said than done to reduce it.  But there are real reasons why it is critical to try as best you can to reduce your stress.  For some people, stress increases appetite, makes us hold onto fat and for everyone it releases negative hormones.  Most people have heard of the fight or flight hormones, the most common being: adrenalin, CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone), norepinepherine and cortisol. In cave days, the fight or flight response was imperative to survival. Although still a necessary response, say in the case of real physical danger or a threat, the trigger of too many stress hormones in daily life does not help us, but hinders us.  These stress signals not only increase our appetite, but also leads to storage of visceral fat around the belly (I discuss this further in the blog belly fat). Visceral fat can lead to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease as well as other health concerns.

Stress leads to anxiety and emotional eating, which also leads to weight gain.  Many people eat as a way to calm down or reward themselves for dealing with a stressful day. When chronically stressed, there is a desire to eat comfort foods-usually loaded with fat, sugar and calories. The rise in cortisol when we are stressed increases our cravings/desires for carbohydrate (sugar or starchy) foods. It also leads to mindless eating. When you eat mindlessly, you not only have no idea how much you’ve eaten, but I bet you no longer even taste what you have consumed.

So, what can you do to help reduce the stress in your life?

  • Get enough sleep! It is critical for adults to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. We cannot make up lost sleep on the weekends or with power naps.  Stress causes decreased blood sugar, which leads to that feeling of fatigue and rises in cortisol levels, which lead to those carb cravings. Try and remove caffeine from your diet after noon daily if you are sensitive to the stimulus that caffeine provides that could lead to insomnia. Also, do not exercise too close to bedtime, as the hormones released can interfere with sleep as well.
  • Exercise-The goal is to get 30-35 minutes of aerobic activity 5x/week and weight bearing exercise 2x/week.  If you are completely sedentary, start slow and get clearance from your physician before you start an exercise routine. It not only will give you energy, but will improve your brain chemistry-and may remove you from your stress for awhile and help to clear your head.
  • Don’t skip meals-Eat three meals and two, 100 calorie snacks daily. Snacks should be nutritious-lean protein, fiber and/or complex carbohydrate. Try and remove packaged foods and refined sugar from your diet and try and eat the rainbow-as many different colored fruits and vegetables as you can-remember 8-10 servings daily!
  • Try meditation and/or hypnosis-If you are having trouble shutting out the chatter in your brain, meditation has been proven to help relax and calm the mind. Hypnosis can also be helpful as a tool for emotional eating.  There are many useful tapes and courses available.
  • Find time for yourself-Take a moment every day to do something just for yourself.  Whether its reading a chapter of a new book you wanted to read or watching your favorite show, its important to take that time to do something relaxing and fun.
  • Reduce alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine and drugs-Alcohol  as well as other drugs are a depressant and all of these items can lead to elevated cortisol levels, which in turn leads to those bad cravings for unhealthy foods.
  • Reach out! Whether you confide in a loved one, friend or trained professional, there is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Sometimes stress can be too overwhelming to deal with on your own and lead to not only weight gain but serious medical conditions.

Reducing stress is imperative for overall wellness and weight maintenance.  Find ways to be kind to yourself and get help when you need it.  Your body will thank you!


Spicy Shrimp Noodle Bowl

Recipe from Cooking Light Magazine

Stress and weight gain


 1 pound tail-on peeled and deveined medium shrimp

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth

1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice

2 (1/4-inch-thick) slices peeled fresh ginger

1 teaspoon olive oil

3/4 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup sugar snap peas

2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 ounces uncooked rice sticks

2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

Lime wedges


1. Remove shrimp tails; set aside. Combine shrimp tails, water, broth, clam juice, and ginger in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl; discard solids.

2. Heat olive oil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, yellow onion, and garlic; sauté 3 minutes. Add reserved broth; bring to a simmer. Add shrimp, peas, chili garlic sauce, salt, and noodles; cook 5 minutes or until noodles are done. Ladle 1 1/4 cups soup into each of 4 bowls; top each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Nutritional Information

Calories 236

Fat 3.6 g

Satfat 0.7 g

Monofat 1.3 g

Polyfat 1 g

Protein 26.5 g

Carbohydrate 25.4 g

Fiber 1.9 g

Cholesterol 174 mg

Iron 3.7 mg

Sodium 506 mg

Calcium 84 mg