July 16, 2014

A new study suggests that women who experience one or more stressful events the day before eating the equivalent of a burger and French fries burn fewer calories than those who experienced no stressful event. For women with a history of depression, having a stressful event contributed to burning even fewer calories.

It’s well known that chronic, or long-term, stress can cause weight gain, but this new research points to the negative consequences of a single stressful event. Insulin levels peak higher, and cortisol levels and blood triglycerides are higher, all of which are linked with weight gain.

Those who had experienced a stressful event burned 435kJ less in the 7 hour period following the meal than those who did not experience stress. This difference could add almost 5kg over a year – and that’s assuming there were no other factors contributing to weight gain.

For those suffering from stress, this research is significant. If weight loss is a goal, finding ways to alleviate or eliminate stressors is an important part of the total strategy.

This is really easy to say but often harder to do. In general, there are three options:

1. Eliminate (or reduce) the stressor.

2. Change the stressee – the way they think about or deal with the stress. “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” William Shakespeare

3. Run away and hide.

The most appropriate course of action will depend on the circumstances. For most of us, we can’t just go and live in a cave so option 3 is probably not appropriate, but for effective weight loss stress must be managed.

Specific food choices have been found to influence stress. Unlike countless TV programs where women deal with stress by eating a tub of ice-cream (and miraculously remain skinny), the research suggests that this is a poor strategy.

According to the abstract of another study, “The rapid absorption of glucose after consumption of high-GI meals induces a sequence of hormonal and metabolic changes that promote excessive food intake in obese subjects.”

A diet that controls the hormonal and metabolic changes is therefore essential. Omega-3 oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and protect against neuron damage that can be caused by chronic stress. Combine that with a diet that controls blood glucose for perhaps the best dietary strategy for managing the stress response.

And of course, eliminate the stresses or find ways to help you respond to it for best long-term health and weight control.