The Correlation Between Stress and Weight

The Correlation Between Stress and Weight

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A wellness specialist offers tips for Solo Moms who want to lose both

My wakeup call came when I was packing for our spring break vacation. I tried on a couple pairs of jeans that fit unforgivingly snug, so I decided to face the truth and step on the scale. All I have to say about the number that came up is “Yikes!”

The frustration of dieting when it doesn’t even work anymore makes my blood boil. Why do I feel like all I do is eat healthy food and work out, and I am still the heaviest I’ve been since I was pregnant 13 years ago? Getting older just seems unfair in so many ways—with the weight gain and middle-aged muffin tops that are a major part of Mother Nature’s injustice.

Desperate for help, I reached out to Christopher Brady, a Chicago-based health and wellness coach whose mostly female clientele include many Solo Moms. Brady, who holds certifications as a corrective exercise specialist and a fitness and nutrition specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, said psychological stress becomes elevated as we age, which likely contributes to those extra pounds.

“Stress elevates cortisol, the stress hormone that makes it more challenging for your body to manage blood sugar,” said Brady, who has been in the field of nutrition and fitness for more than a decade. “That is what makes it more difficult to lose weight.”

So, what is causing all this stress? Brady said the main stressors he hears from moms—both married and single—are the following:

  1. There’s not enough time to get everything done.
  2. There’s no time to take care of myself.
  3. How do I work and do everything for my kids?
  4. It’s so stressful getting my kids to and from activities, making sure they have healthy snacks, and also making sure they know that they’re still loved at the end of the day when I am exhausted.
  5. How do I stay healthy with all this stress?
  6. I know I’m not sleeping enough or even getting good-quality sleep.
  7. I hate when the stress gets to me and I’m short-tempered with my kids.

I have probably experienced feeling all seven of those things, which, according to Brady, contributed to the reason I couldn’t button my jeans two weeks ago!

Here are Brady’s eight recommendations for losing both stress and weight:

1. Get organized. Write everything down. Checklists help reduce stress by helping you see on paper or your smartphone what needs to be accomplished during the day. Also, set alarms on your phone and use a reminder app.

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Find someone to whom you feel you can safely vent. When we talk about our stressors, sometimes we realize it’s not worth stressing so much over them. We can prioritize where to focus our attention versus feeling overwhelmed.

3. Just breathe and walk away to regroup. The number-one thing that causes people to be more reactive than receptive to stressful situations is holding your breath. Crying when you don’t know why, yelling at people for no reason, or getting really angry when things don’t go right are all responses from not breathing deep and not getting enough oxygen.

4. Understand that you don’t have to be perfect. Realizing that allows you to achieve more realistic balance and control over your life. Put your effort into what really matters. Ask yourself if something that isn’t perfect is going to negatively affect your life next week, next year, or even tomorrow.

5. Let yourself laugh. Laughing is important for releasing stress. Let your thoughts drift to something cute or funny that your kids did or do. Find and watch a comedian who makes you laugh. Call a friend who will always give you a good laugh or who instantly makes you feel good.

6. You don’t have to go to the gym to work out. The reality is that in the busy life of a Solo Mom, there isn’t always time to get to the gym, so Brady gives his clients personalized workouts they can do each day to help them maintain mental and physical health. Doing a few breathing exercises, functional movements, or even push-ups or sit-ups (which you can do in your family room) is better than doing nothing at all. Movement and breath get your blood circulating and your energy flowing, and they can enhance your mood and attitude more than you think.

7. Establish a Zen den. A “Zen den” can be closing your eyes and just breathing and/or meditating. It can be listening to your favorite song and singing as if you’re in the shower. It can be giving yourself a 60-second time-out to visualize your most relaxing place on earth. Some moms find their Zen den in the car while waiting to pick their kids up from school or one of their many after-school activities. It is amazing what a daily five-minute centering exercise can do for you, both mentally and physically.

8. Start and end your day with gratitude. Think about the things and people you are grateful for twice a day—once when you first wake up and again before you fall asleep. What will that do for you? It will help you find and focus on the positives and what is truly important to you versus the daily stressors of life.

Let’s face it: there is nothing easy about losing weight, and diet and exercise are the main two components that make a person successful in an endeavor to improve one’s body. But according to Brady, if you can find a way to lower your stress level, thereby lowering your cortisol level, the number on your scale will ultimately get lower, too!

For more great inspiration and advice about wellness, check out our closed Facebook group ESME Wellness!

Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.

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