Stress, Weight Gain and Weight Loss

Leah Brennan


Stress, Weight Gain and Weight Loss

By Dr Leah Brennan – Clinical and Health Psychologist Centre for Eating, Weight and Body Image

Stress can have a strange effect on health behaviours, weight, and health. Often intense acute stress can reduce appetite and lead to weight loss in the short-term. However, chronic stress is linked to weight gain and health problems.  It can be difficult to maintain healthy behaviours such as planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks and exercising regularly when you are feeling stressed, and this can lead to weight gain. However, stress can also affect weight in other ways. Many people use emotional eating as a way of coping with stress. Often stress leads to difficulties sleeping, and sleep deprivation is associated with weight gain. Stress also has an impact on metabolism via its effects on our central nervous system. All of these things combined can have a significant impact on health and weight.
The following strategies may help to reduce stress

  • Be aware of your stressors and do what you can to reduce them.
  • Notice your early warning signs of stress (e.g., irritability, muscle tension) and do what you can to reduce your stress as early as possible.
  • Prioritise exercise, it is a very effective stress management technique.
  • Prioritise sleep, being well rested will hope you cope better both physical and psychologically.
  • Have some down time every day. Sometimes this may be just a few minutes here and there, but it all makes a difference.
  • Learn some relaxation strategies.
  • Have some quick and easy meal and snack ideas handy for stressful times – some frozen meals or healthy take away can help get you through busy time.
  • Tune into your body and take note of why you are eating. If it is because you are stressed, or looking for a quick way to reward yourself, consider trying some other strategies first.

If these stress management techniques don’t seem to be working, or you cannot see an end to your stress, consider seeing a psychologist for some extra strategies and support.