Lost Extra Weight? Stress May Help Gain It Back

Don't Let Stress, Depression Wreck Your Healthy Eating Habits

From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 17, 2005 -- If you've lost excess weight (or want to do so), upgrading your emotional coping skills may help keep those pounds off for good.

That way, you may be less likely to seek comfort from food when you're stressed or depressed.

In a new study, people who were stressed or depressed were more likely to regain weight. They consumed more calories, especially calories from fat.

The finding was presented in Vancouver, Canada, at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity's Annual Scientific Meeting.

Yo-Yo Trap

Many people who lose weight gain it back again. That can create a cycle of losing and gaining weight, sometimes called the "yo-yo" effect.

Why does that happen? The essence of weight gain is simple -- consume more calories than you burn, and you'll gain weight. But why we blow our calorie budgets can be complicated.

Researcher Paula Rhode, PhD, and colleagues studied 69 women who had lost weight on a six-month, doctor-supervised program.

The women were screened at the end of the weight loss program and again nine, 12, and 18 months later. They answered questions about their moods, stress levels, and eating habits.

Stress, Depression, and Weight

Higher stress and depression scores predicted weight regain, the study shows.

"The regain occurred as a result of the women consuming both more calories and a greater percentage of fat in their diets," Rhode tells WebMD.

"This suggests that the women may have been eating more high-fat, high-calorie foods as a way of coping with their stress, and that the stress caused a decline in the healthier eating behaviors they had been engaging in when they initially lost the weight," she continues.

Rhode is an assistant professor in the preventive medicine department at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.


Broader Meaning

The women in Rhode's study were black women with low levels of income and education.

These women represent a medically underserved population at "very high risk for obesity and obesity-related diseases," are often overlooked in weight loss studies, and typically find it hard to lose weight, Rhode notes.

"However," she adds, "the implications of this study likely apply to men and other ethnic groups as well."

Stress has been shown to hamper health in many ways, notes Rhode. Those problems include increased risky behavior, lowered resistance to disease, and poorer coping skills, she says.

Learn to Cope

It may be possible to reduce or get rid of some stressors, but a totally stress-free existence isn't likely.

How you handle stress is up to you, and it could make a difference in long-term weight loss success.

"Incorporating stress- and mood-management techniques into future weight loss programs may help to prevent or delay weight regain that occurs as a result of poor coping and/or increased high-risk or unhealthy behaviors," says Rhode.

Stress and depression are serious issues for body, mind, and mood. Doctors or counselors may be able to help you find new solutions. The first steps are recognizing the problem and seeking help.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 17, 2005


SOURCES: Annual Scientific Meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Vancouver, Canada, Oct. 15-19, 2005. Paula Rhode, PhD, assistant professor, preventive medicine department, University of Kansas School of Medicine.
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