Raise your hand if you’re stressed. No, seriously! Can’t you see my hand waving in the air too?
OK, now put your hand down if you DON’T have trouble managing your weight. Yep, almost all those hands are still up there.
There is definitely an association between stress and weight gain. I see it over and over in the office. The question is why? Well I wanted to know too, so I went to the database to see if there’s any recent research to shed light on this subject.
(By the way, if you ever want to look up the latest research on any given topic, the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed database is free and open to the public.)
First of all, I know (and just about everyone else knows) that we tend to eat more and eat the wrong foods when we’re under too much stress. Why is that? There was an article published in Biological Psychiatry last year that suggested overeating and eating super-tasty (called “hyperpalatable”) foods triggered dopamine release in the brain. This is the “pleasure hormone” and is also released during sex and with drug abuse.
It’s well-known that stress decreases dopamine levels. Certain behaviors like eating, sex and taking drugs raise dopamine levels and “soothe” stress. This may be why medications like Wellbutrin, which is an antidepressant that raises dopamine levels, often leads to weight loss. I use Wellbutrin with my weight loss patients who struggle with stress, and it helps a lot.
A group in Italy published a paper last year suggesting that stress can trigger an almost addictive behavior relating to food. Chronic stress may be able to change pathways in the brain, triggering compulsive eating behaviors similar to behaviors seen in addicts. Yikes!
So where does your stress come from? Probably the most significant source of stress for most of us is our job. Is there any evidence of a relationship between job stress and weight gain?
There’s growing evidence that the more stressful your job is, the more you will struggle with weight gain. The Journal of Nursing Administration reported that nurses who worked longer hours and moved around less while doing their job were more likely to be obese. The Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health also found an association between working long hours, working overtime, and weight gain/obesity.
So what can we do? Obviously not many of us are able to quit our jobs or find totally stress-free jobs. Managing and reducing our stress with healthy behaviors is critically important in maintaining our weight.
A detailed discussion of stress reduction methods is outside the scope of this post. Besides, I’ve discussed this topic before. The important thing is for you to be AWARE of your stress level before it drives you to seek foods that aren’t good for you.
Many people turn to supplements for stress reduction. For more information about supplements that can help with stress, please check this page.
QUESTION: What do you think of the comparison between stress-related eating behaviors and addiction? Have there been times when your eating was uncontrollable because of stress?