Stress and weight

Recent clinical data indicates a strong relationship between stress, obesity and ill health. Short, sharp reactions to acute stressors such as an argument with a friend or family member or problems with work that are quickly resolved and forgotten about, will cause no permanent harm and the body is well designed to cope with this type of situation.

However an inappropriate and prolonged (chronic) stress response where you feel unable to cope and continually on edge, results in an excessive and continual secretion of stress hormones. These hormones, via a complex relationship with other chemicals, can exert a wide range of effects on various tissues and organs of the body, but most specifically in relation to body weight, they can cause increased visceral (tummy) fat deposition and a decrease in your lean muscle mass over time. Both of these situations are deleterious to long term health.

You may not be able to avoid situations that cause you stress, but what you can do is find strategies to make sure your reaction to the stressor doesn’t affect your health or your weight.

Stress management strategies you can do yourself

Healthy diet

There are a number of reasons why having a healthy diet can go a long way to helping you deal with stress:

  • Good nutrition helps your body and mind deal with stress
  • Taking the time to prepare, sit and savour a meal at home allows you to relax and take a break from the worries of the day.
  • The social interaction afforded by sitting around the family dinner table to eat a meal can also facilitate communication about the concerns of the day, which can be another means of letting go of stress. Like the saying goes  – “a problem shared is a problem halved”.


Getting enough exercise (at least 30 mins each day) will provide a natural release of feel good hormones (endorphins) and also make you more likely to sleep better at night. Both of these benefits will make it easier for you to cope with a stressful situation. The other benefit of taking time away from the home or the office to do this exercise means you have time to clear the head of negative thoughts. The deep rhythmic breathing that accompanies moderate exercise is also very relaxing.


All you need for this strategy is a quiet place you can go to for 10 mins or so, where you won’t be disturbed and where you can sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and concentrate just on the sound of your breath in and out. With each breath out, imagine all the tension in your muscles being released.

Lentil patties

Stress management strategies you can learn

Yoga & TaiChi – The slow, rhythmic deliberate movements of either of these activities are excellent for achieving relaxation and to help manage stress. The other benefit specifically for people with osteoarthritis is that TaiChi has been shown to result in improvements in joint mobility and reduction in joint pain. We will discuss both during the week 9 education module on Stretching and Flexibility.

Multi-ethnic group of adults practicing tai chi in park.  Main focus on Asian woman.

Seek help

If you have not been able to achieve adequate relaxation with any of the stress management options listed above, or you feel you could benefit from some professional help to better deal with stress, speak to your GP about a referral to a stress management counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. They have been specifically trained in teaching a whole range of specialised and effective techniques, and will no doubt be able to find a technique that works for you.

For additional help, information or support please don’t hesitate to contact us.