Weight Gain Linked to Stress
Exercise Stress Away
Oct. 30, 2000 -- Ask Alison McCormick to rate how stressful the
past year and a half has been, and, on a scale of 1 to 10, she'd have to give
it a 9 3/4. Easy.
First, the grandmother she'd been closest to passed away. Then
she spent several months caring for her mother-in-law, who'd had a stroke.
While all this was happening, McCormick, a fourth-grade teacher in Ventura,
Calif., was having disagreements with her job-share partner and ended up
looking for a new position. Finally, after a difficult search, she landed a new
teaching job she loves -- just in time for the after-school arrangements she'd
made for her own young children to fall apart.
"If it wasn't one thing, it was another," says
McCormick, 39. "And in the midst of it all, I gained over 10
The link between stress and weight gain has long been known --
at least to women like McCormick, who can relate tales of how they put on extra
pounds during trying times. But in recent years, science also has made a case
for the stress-weight gain connection, says Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, a former
research fellow at the National Institutes of Health. Now an assistant clinical
professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Peeke
is the author of a recent book, Fight Fat After Forty. In it, she makes
the case that stress likely does play a central role in weight gain by
affecting both appetite and the way the body stores fat and offers a fairly
simple antidote to the problem. "Exercise," she says, "is the
ultimate neutralizer of the effects of stress."
It's Only Natural: Our Innate Response to Stress
Like many people, McCormick has often rewarded herself with
food after a stressful day. "I would say to myself, 'I deserve ice
cream,'" McCormick says. We usually blame such a response on psychology --
after all, eating is one way we nurture ourselves. But Peeke argues that there
also may be a physiological reason. She calls it the "stew and chew"