Having to use an extra belt loop and feeling like you can never quite shake those last few pounds are problems that many of us face; but can one of the causes be stress and anxiety? Doctors from around the world say that the answer for millions of people is “yes.”

Why Does Stress Cause Weight Gain? It has been proven by groups like the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic that eating can be a coping mechanism for many people. Called stress eating or emotional eating, many eat to provide positive stimuli to counter negative emotions like stress and anxiety. How many of us have come home after a trying day and found solace by diving into a big bowl of ice cream?
Some researchers believe that there are evolutionary impulses. The causes of stress in ancient humans tended to be less “I have the worst boss!” or “I don’t have enough time in the day!” and more “winter is coming and food will be scare soon” or “my, those bears are getting close.” In those extreme cases, ancient humans would instinctively try to consume more food in order to have more energy to tackle upcoming challenges like food shortages and predators. While we- at least most of us- don’t have to worry about being eaten by bears today, some scientists believe that this instinct to eat is still with us.

The Nasty Cortisol Link

Among the main reasons stress and anxiety can cause weight gain is the release of a chemical called cortisol. It is a hormone that our bodies produce during times of stress that specifically causes bodies to retain more fat around the abdomen. This may also be a leftover evolutionary trait albeit a physiological rather than psychological one.

Stress and its causes can bring about either physical or emotional fatigue. This can often turn into a habit of inactivity like crashing on the couch after hard day at work. While more of a bad habit than a psychological reaction, falling into a pattern that limits exercise or other healthy activities can be as much to blame for weight gain as any other reason on this list.

What Can I Do About My Anxiety?

Although excessive weight gain can stem from stress and anxiety, the best way to curb the problem is still getting rid of that fat the old fashioned way: healthy diet and exercise. Many who are concerned about losing weight are tempted to fall back on diet and “fat-burning” pills; however, doctors warn that most of these products are not effective and can actually increase stress levels in those taking them. Eliminating “comfort foods” from your diet and getting regular exercise can go a long way towards losing weight.

One of the best ways to cut back on stress-induced eating is to organize your eating habits. Don’t miss meals- especially breakfast- but don’t snack between them either. Some people even keep a log of when and what they eat to better ensure that they aren’t indulging themselves when they don’t need to. Stress and emotional eating usually come as an impulse. Eating on a structured routine can prevent that.

Recognizing The Signs Of Stress

Learn to recognize signs of stress like muscle tension, headaches, and irritability and figure out how to cope with them. Simple practices like breathing exercises or releasing energy in a healthy way like playing a sport are great ways to do so. There are also other means of stress relief like meditation, yoga, or massage.

Lastly, you can get a good night’s sleep. Doing so can cut down on stress and anxiety and better help you lead an active lifestyle in your waking hours.

Leading a less stress-filled life has a number of benefits, from maintaining a healthy weight to simply being happier. The key is finding how to manage this stress in your own life. Each person is different and each person will find different ways of coping that are effective for them.

What methods of cutting down on stress and anxiety fit into your life?