Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Stress and weight gain

How do I control stress-induced weight gain?

Updated: 07-23-2011

Answer

When you're under stress, you may find it harder to eat healthy. Also, during times of particularly high stress, you may eat in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs — sometimes called stress eating or emotional eating. And you may be especially likely to eat high-calorie foods during times of stress, even when you're not hungry.

To prevent weight gain during stress and reduce the risk of obesity, get a handle on your stress. When you feel less stressed and more in control of your life, you may find it easier to stick to healthy eating and exercise habits.

Try these stress management techniques to combat stress-related weight gain:

  • Recognize the warning signs of stress, such as anxiety, irritability and muscle tension.
  • Before eating, ask yourself why you're eating — are you truly hungry or do you feel stressed or anxious?
  • If you're tempted to eat when you're not hungry, find a distraction.
  • Don't skip meals, especially breakfast.
  • Identify comfort foods and keep them out of your home or office.
  • Keep a record of your behavior and eating habits so that you can look for patterns and connections — and then figure out how to overcome them.
  • Learn problem-solving skills so that you can anticipate challenges and cope with setbacks.
  • Practice relaxation skills, such as yoga, massage or meditation.
  • Engage in regular physical activity or exercise.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Get encouragement from supportive friends and family.

If you try stress management techniques on your own but they don't seem to be working, consider seeking professional help through psychotherapy or counseling.