Could Stress Be Sabotaging Your Weight-Loss Efforts?

How do stress and depression really impact your weight? New research reveals how emotional eating can really get the best of us.

September 29, 2014

"I love being stressed out," said no one ever. Besides wreaking havoc on your skin (hello, breakouts!) and health, it’s also bad for your waistline. A new study found that increased levels of stress and depression make it really hard to stick to your nutrition plan and ultimately lose those extra pounds.

While this isn’t exactly news to anyone, the research in the journal Obesity looked to answer the question: How exactly do stress and depression affect our weight-loss goals? A total of 257 overweight adults were studied by researchers from Harvard and SUNY Upstate Medical University over a 2-year period, all of whom had the goal of reducing their body weight by 5 percent. 


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Results showed that for high-stress adults, at the 6-month mark, they had only dropped around 3 percent body weight. Meanwhile, low-stress participants saw a nearly 6 percent loss. At the end of the experiment, the stressed out group still only lost around 3 percent of their body weight, while those that were relatively stress-free saw a nearly 7 percent loss. An outcome that researchers say could be attributed to, "depression and stress limiting weight loss by negatively impacting behaviors that promote it."

According to Dr. Coral Arvon, PhD, LMFT, LCSW, Director of Behavioral Health & Wellness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, everyone has an emotional eating cycle. 

"When you start feeling stressed, you want to cover it up with food," shares Arvon. "The second part of that cycle is the momentary bliss when you get to eat and you feel great for maybe 20 minutes maximum and then the last part of the cycle, you have an emotional hangover and feel guilty so do it all over again."


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Arvon says one way to avoid stress eating is to plan out in advance what you are going to eat throughout the day and night. Also, include what you plan to accomplish that day and something nice that you can do for yourself. 

"People are at highest risk of self-sabotage with eating and drinking between the hours of 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.," she adds. "These hours would be a wonderful time to have healthy snack or do something social -- take a short walk or go the gym, grab coffee with friends/co-workers -- any place to interact with others before you go home for the day."