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7 Ways to Avoid Stress-Related Weight Gain

How to chill out and keep the pounds off


Stressful home situations or working at a job that makes you crazy can lead to weight gain over time, according to a new study from Ohio State University.

The study involved 58 women, average age 53, who were questioned about their prior day’s stressful events before being given a high-fat meal of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat (equivalent to a quarter pounder with cheese and bacon plus fries). Afterward, researchers measured the women’s metabolic rates (the time it took for them to burn calories and fat). Blood sugar, insulin and the stress hormone cortisol were among the parameters measured.

The participants who reported one or more stressful situations during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than the non-stressed women in the seven hours after eating the high-fat meal. This difference adds up to a potential weight gain of an alarming 11 pounds a year.

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“Keep in mind, however, we don’t know if differences in activity level might have contributed to the results of this study,” says Dr. Brian Quebbemann, founder of the N.E.W. Program in Newport Beach, Calif., who was not part of the study. “Regardless, stress has been long known to result in a tendency to gain weight. Stress works by increasing the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, which makes you hungrier and also stimulates the deposit of fat around your midsection.”

The solutions: Stress reduction through activity helps you feel more relaxed and keeps your metabolism from tanking.

(MORE: 7 Big Myths About Body Fat)

1. Plan stress-relieving activities. Stress reduction can be achieved by doing an activity that helps you feel more relaxed or by avoiding stressful situations, says Quebbemann. “Make a list of things you enjoy (a walk, bubble bath, reading) that make you feel less stressed.” Then try to fit in one of the activities each day — though don’t try to cram in all the relaxing activities at once. You can end up adding stress if you pressure yourself into trying to do it all, cautions Quebbemann.

2. When possible, avoid things that cause stress. Stress happens as a part of life. You can’t control things like unexpected illnesses or a rude daughter-in-law. But take note of the things that stress you out that are under your control, says Quebbemann, and try to avoid them when you can. These could include skipping anxiety-inducing TV shows before bed, or emailing and texting late at night. Turn off your phone after a certain time.

Late night eating can also stress the body, says Quebbemann. “Eating ice cream at night may feel good in the moment but then it disrupts your sleep, makes you thirsty and results in fatigue the next day.”

3. Practice self-hypnosis. “Hypnosis is used for many different things, but relaxation and stress reduction tops the list,” says Colin Christopher, a clinical hypnotherapist and author of Success Through Manipulation: Subconscious Reactions that Will Make or Break You. Here’s how to do it:

  • Get in a quiet location. Dim the lights and keep the mood dark to relax your eyes and mind.
  • Inhale deeply from your diaphragm (stomach area), hold for three seconds, and exhale slowly through your lips, dropping your shoulders as you breathe out.
  • Recite a memorized sentence that makes you feel good. Two examples are: “I am relaxed and in control,” and “I feel good, healthy, rejuvenated and relaxed.”
  • Close your eyes and think of a time where you felt really relaxed, or of a situation that makes you feel relaxed, i.e. sitting on the beach.
  • If your body is tense, do some muscle relaxation exercises. Start from the feet and work your way to your head. Tighten the muscles in each part of the body for a few seconds, then release and feel the tension disappear. (Consider visiting a clinical hypnotherapist for a professional hypnotherapy session for relaxation.)


4. Put worry in perspective
. The way you respond to stress is key and may be a long-ago learned behavior, says Christine Moll, a member of the American Counseling Association and professor of counselor education at Canisius College, Buffalo, N.Y. “You can begin to relax by consciously trying to view stressors with a new perspective or balance.” Ask yourself, ‘Where does this fit into my life?’ If you find it’s a small or trivial matter — something that won’t affect your life in a major way — try to let it go.

5. Take a walk in the woods. Walking on its own helps relieve stress, but walking in the woods is shown to be even better at reducing stress, according to Dr. Aaron Michelfelder, professor of family medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “When we get to nature, our health improves,” Michelfelder said.

When we walk in a forest or park, our level of natural killer cells (which fight cancer) increase, and it lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and level of the stress hormone cortisol. Spend time in nature and feel yourself unwind.

6. Meditate. Just 10 to 15 minutes of meditation a day can make a difference, says Kathy Gruver, author of Conquer Your Stress with Mind/Body Techniques. “Do mini meditations if you ‘can’t’ meditate or don’t have time.” Simply concentrate on your breath and on the inhale think, “I am.” On the exhale think, “at peace.” And repeat while focusing on your inhalation and exhalations. Start with five minutes and work your way up to 20 or 30 minutes a day.

(MORE: T’ai Chi: One Practice that Helps Lower Stress)

7. Be mindful. Being in the moment helps relieve stress by taking the focus off anything outside of that moment. So while performing daily activities — dishwashing, brushing your teeth, showering, etc. — Gruver recommends using concentration and curiosity. “Really feel the water on your hands, smell the lemony soap, watch that bubble float out of the sink and then it pops with a small spray of water… this makes any activity a meditation and pulls us into the present moment,” she says.

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