hen I’m stressed, I get the impulse to snack. I want something crunchy, salty, or sweet! It took me a while, but I finally figured out how to avoid the pitfalls and how to lose stress weight.
I used to be so busy, going from meeting to meeting, and I had barely any time to eat. Sometimes, I would need a break from all the thinking I was doing. Food was the easiest stress reliever I could find at the moment.
I would eyeball the vending machine outside the main conference room lustfully. Or, I would hurry through the office kitchen, seeing if anyone happened to bring in one of those bright pink bakery boxes to share.
Then once I gave in to salty chips or snacked down on the bear claw back in my office, a wash of guilt would flood over me.
Or, even when I was “good” when I was stressed, I still noticed I had SUCH a hard time losing any weight.
It’s easy to put on weight when we’re stressed because we really do crave high-calorie food. And our bodies release stress hormones that make it REALLY hard to lose weight.
In this post I’ll talk about:
- How stress causes weight gain (especially belly fat)
- What stress does to your hunger signals
- 6 diets to follow when you’re stressed to unlock weight loss
- Top tips for managing anxiety and stress so your body can get ahead
- When it’s OK to indulge in even *gasp* refined foods
Here’s how to lose stress weight once and for all!
How do stress cause weight gain and belly fat?
High stress causes appetite changes by increasing epinephrine and cortisol levels in your blood.
This throws off a hormone called leptin, which regulates your appetite. Your body will signal that you’re hungry even when you’re not. When your leptin levels are off, it also causes cravings for high sugar and fat foods. (1)
This is because your body has evolutionary programming telling you that when you feel stress, it’s because of danger. The ancient part of your brain doesn’t know the difference between an invading rival tribe or your boss telling you they need that report by the end of the day.
When you feel stress, your body senses danger, and signals to itself, “OK, we’re in danger. We need lots of calorie-dense food now so we’ll have the energy to run from this danger or fight back.”
Obviously desk job weight gain is a real thing because we keep getting the internal signals for the high-calorie foods, but we don’t burn any calories running away or battling a strong enemy. We just sit at our desk, stare into our spreadsheet, feel panic, and gain weight.
Here are a couple of other ways stress adds to your weight. Chronic stress makes it harder to sleep well, which also spikes your cortisol levels. Lack of sleep triggers excess hunger as your body tries to make up for lack of energy. (1)
Cortisol also tends to make the fat cells gather around the belly and midsection. So even if you’re not eating that bad, fat goes right to this problem area. (1,2)
How to lose stress weight with good food habits
One quick fix for reducing weight gain when you’re stressed is to lay off the coffee and other caffeine. Why? Caffeine boosts cortisol levels by 25%.(3) So if you’re already feeling the pressure, opt for decaf or herbal tea to prevent your cortisol levels and belly fat from ballooning.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, particularly rich in Vitamin B, C, calcium, and magnesium (whole grains like oatmeal, fibrous bread, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, Greek yogurt, leafy greens) and avoid refined sugar and refined carbohydrates (cookies, crackers, doughnuts, cereal, pastries) (4,2)
There are lots of different healthy diets that can help you battle office job weight gain. Some diets work better for specific body types. But the underlying factor is to eat as much real, whole, low sugar food as possible.
Here are some more diets that different people find people find helpful in their search for how to lose stress weight.
You’ll get different vitamins and minerals from different sources in all of these diets. But if you stay away from refined food and focus on anti-inflammatory foods, you’ll feel AMAZING and lose weight.
Have a cheat day or at least dessert one day a week
That being said, you don’t have to eat perfect ALL of the time. If you really miss chocolate cake or ice cream, allow yourself ONE cheat day or just a cheat dessert on Saturday for example. That’s right! I’m talking about even refined food! (5)
This has been an essential part of how to lose stress weight for me. I love my cheat day. I don’t feel deprived, and then my body is so used to healthy food, that I’m excited to go back to my anti-inflammatory diet the next day.
Make sure this is something you plan for, not an impulsive decision that keeps happening over and over again. That will defeat the purpose and you won’t lose the weight.
For a good mid-week treat, I recommend at least 70% or 80% dark chocolate because it’s lower in sugar, high in antioxidants, and it’s so decadent.
Get lots of protein
Eat protein with every meal or snack. This is because it slows the burning of carbs and satisfies your hunger for longer. (2) Also make sure you include healthy fats such as fish oil, nuts, and seeds. They give you healthy Omega 3s and minerals your body needs to support your brain in stressful times.
Manage anxiety and weight gain with these lifestyle habits
Getting enough good quality sleep is a MUST for how to lose stress weight. (6)
Don’t ever crash diet or be overly strict. (7,2) When you limit yourself too much, you’re setting yourself up for giving in to binging later because you’re starving yourself.
Eat slowly and never eat on the run if you can help it. Eating (even healthy food) too quickly can still add to belly fat. Slowing down reduces this and makes your digestive system work better. (8,2)
Move your body when you’re feeling stressed. Do some push-ups, stretches, or go for a quick brisk walk. This will actually tell your body that you’re “getting away from” the thing that’s causing you stress. It also releases feel-good chemicals that balance out the stress chemicals. (9,2)
Take care of yourself, especially when you can feel the tension building in your shoulders. Do this by scheduling time for fun. Make time to meet up with friends, have a museum visit, go ice skating or go-carting with the kids.
Make sure you set time aside for getting a massage, a manicure or pedicure if possible. And hit the sauna if you can. Sweating in the sauna for 10 minutes boosts your metabolism and circulation AND releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. (10)
What stresses triggers you to eat foods that make you feel bad? What foods help you feel back on top and calm? Let me know in the comments!