Managing Stress to Avoid Weight Gain

stressed-out-woman-eatingLast week I watched a documentary about stress, in particular, the harmful effects of having to deal with too much of it. The documentary explained that over time stress breaks down both physical and mental health.

Many of us are so used to living in a high-stress state that we don’t realize how much stress is in our lives. I have five questions for you:

  1. Do you experience nervousness, anxiety or tension?
  2. Do you have muscle pain, headaches and dizziness?
  3. Do you have trouble sleeping?
  4. Do you have trouble with high blood pressure?
  5. Do you struggle with irritability and depression?

If you answered “yes” to one or more of these, you might have high stress in your life; any of these can be symptoms of stress. Uncontrolled stress is associated with high blood sugar and high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, cancer, skin problems, substance abuse, stomach problems and memory loss. Stress also can cause weight gain, and for most of us, that’s the last thing we want.eating

One nutritional challenge of stress is emotional eating, which is when you eat a lot of food – usually comfort foods like sweets and salty snacks – for reasons other than hunger. The MOVE weight management program has some great ideas about managing this type of eating.

A plan for avoiding weight gain due to stress is to follow a regular meal plan. This means no skipping meals and no midnight feasts. Choose colorful vegetables and lean cuts of meat, avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and make water your main drink. Focus on choosing whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Snacks to enjoy may be nuts, multi-grain crackers, raw vegetables and fruit. Enjoy a treat occasionally, but don’t let that treat turn into a habit. This reference from our MOVE program has more information on stress and diet.

Behavior modification can decrease your stress. Consider gardening as a way to relieve stress AND have a supply of fresh herbs and vegetables. Contact your local extension office for help with starting a garden. Try to exercise daily, a guaranteed way to decrease your stress and improve your health. Check out these MOVE tips on exercise. Trouble with joint pain or mobility? Look here for ideas!

Stress may never go away completely, but if you use some of the tools below to manage it, your health will improve as a result.

  • Connect with a group of people that you can relate to, such as a bike club or a Bunco group.
  • Take time out to breathe and relax.
  • De-clutter your home.
  • Turn off your TV and read a book instead.

You can learn more ways to manage stress-eating and receive weight loss support through the MOVE program at your local VA. There are a few ways to be involved with MOVE, including group classes, home monitoring (TeleHealth), individual appointments with a dietitian and telephone support programs. VA also has behavioral health psychologists who can help with modifying behaviors to improve your stress levels. Call your local VA today to get started!

sarahbwframesSarah Lacoma is a registered dietitian at the Fayetteville, N.C. VAMC. She has been with VA for three years and, being from a military background, is honored to provide services to the Veteran population.

 

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6 Comments to “Managing Stress to Avoid Weight Gain”

  1. Dan F says:

    One of the ways the VA could reduce stress of veterans is by not being put on hold (or should I say ignore) sometimes for 30 minutes to make an appointment. How’s that for an idea? I am about 20 lbs. overweight, I know what the MOVE program is, However, never once has any doctor or nurse suggested I use it. Of course, I don’t feel like traveling 138 miles to have someone tell me to eat less and exercise more – even if I could.

    • Scott says:

      Dan,

      I know every VA is fighting hard to reduce the time it takes to get an appointment, both on the phone and how far out your appointment is. One thing that might really be a help to you, especially if you live far from your VA, is to contact your provider via secure messaging in My HealtheVet. If you aren’t familiar with the program please do yourself a favor and check out http://www.myhealth.va.gov. It is a completely free program designed for us Veterans so that we can have more involvement in our care. It has everything you should need (and probably lots more) like being able to see your doctors notes, lab results, ability to message your dr and nurses (securely and encrypted), medical health library, goals, prescription refills…tons of other stuff. It’s all free and just for US. Check it out.

  2. Kenneth Mckenna says:

    I tried the move program, but the diet doesn’t take into consideration some of us on
    Disability have to live on $90 a month food allowance. This is not an exaggeration.
    After rent , and all my bills , I can’t afford to eat healthy. I have to stretch $900 a month
    Till it squeals. I’d eat seaweed if they said it was affordable and good for you. Perhaps
    The move program can come up with dietary needs for us po folk , that are healthy and
    Affordable. I’m stuck eating cheap, prossesd food, or not eat at all, which shuts my
    Metabolism down. I’m willing to do the work but, it’s defeating to eat unhealthy due to
    Poverty.

  3. Sarah says:

    Hi Kenneth, thanks for you comment. I agree that budget is a challeng for lots of folks working on healthy eating. Looking for a source of local and seasonal produce might help, such as a farmer’s market. I recommend an appointment with your dietitian, even a phone appointment, to discuss good nutrition on a budget. We’d love to work together with you to establish goals that are reasonable for your lifestyle and preferences.

  4. Angeline says:

    Yea.. I agree with you.. most of us are actually living in stress but we didn’t aware of it because this has become common to us.. Stress actually affect a person overall health where it will slowly attracts those unwanted disease and illnesses.. And it also lead to weight gain because it has become a habit for people to start eating when they stressful.. And I guess that this may be one of the reason why our country is at the top of the rank for “overweight person” compared to others

    Angeline

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