Can managing your stress help you lose weight?

Research shows that stress management can be effective for weight loss. (pic:

Research shows that stress management can be effective for weight loss. (pic:

If you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin when you’re stressed, or if you consider yourself an ’emotional eater’, then a new study on stress management may be of interest to you.

A researcher from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment wanted to test and compare the effectiveness of two interventions that help people lose weight and keep it off. One was an intuitive-eating programme – where people pay attention to their bodies, only eating when they’re hungry, and stopping when they’re full. The other was a stress management intervention, which taught people better ways of dealing with their stress.

Associate professor Kelly Webber says: “With weight loss we know that if you count calories and exercise you will lose weight. However a large percentage of people tend to regain that weight.  “I wanted to explore a couple of new avenues for producing lasting weight loss.”

The study involved 26 participants split into an intuitive eating group and a stress management group, meeting for 75 minutes twice a week for seven weeks. People in the stress management group lost 17 pounds and saw a significant drop in their blood pressure during that period. People in the intuitive eating group did not lose a significant amount of weight or see a decline in blood pressure. The stress management group had kept the weight off 14 weeks later.

Ms Webber says: “So many people in my weight loss studies say ‘I’m a stress eater or I’m an emotional eater’. This stress management-based intervention seems to be getting at the root of the problem.” She says she is “encouraged” by the results and plans to explore them in further studies.

The link between stress and eating is an interesting one. To start exploring for yourself how you respond to stress, start keeping a food journal, noting down what you eat and when  – and paying attention to the triggers that prompt you to reach for comfort food.

Can food journaling help you lose weight?

nutrition diary

Keeping a food journal can help you track patterns of emotional eating. (pic:

Anyone who keeps a journal knows that writing your thoughts and feelings down every day can help identify patterns in your emotions. The daily act of journaling can be healing because it’s an outlet for what’s pent up inside. And it can help you come to terms with difficult events in your life.

Journaling is also proving to be a tool to help you make seismic changes in behaviour. A self-confessed ’emotional eater’ in the US, Charmaine Jackson, has revealed that daily food journaling helped her shed half of her body weight. You can read her full story on CNN. She meticulously recorded everything she ate and drank – and what her mood was like – over five years and 14 journals. She noted she would turn to food when she felt stressed or wanted to cheer herself up, and she would mindlessly munch on junk food while watching TV. “The food journal was my truth serum,” says Charmaine. “It made me be honest with myself.”

Charmaine combined food journaling with exercise and advice from a dietician. But we can see from Charmaine’s story that a food journal has these benefits:

  • You become aware of your eating patterns and bad habits.
  • You can track the emotional reasons behind what and when you eat.
  • It can make you more mindful about eating.
  • It encourages you to take responsibility for what you’re eating.
  • You can feel empowered to make meaningful and lasting changes.

So, instead of tucking into a family pack of crisps next time you’re watching a movie on the sofa, why not reach for pen and paper instead?