Stress and Your Weight: Men vs. Women

 A new study reports that men and women gain weight very differently when they are exposed to stressful situations. Researchers found that women gained weight when subjected to a much wider variety of stressors than did men: poor finances, tense jobs, and strained family relationships, as well as the feeling of being limited by the circumstances of their lives.

In contrast to women, men gained weight mainly in response to just two types of stress, both of them centered on work: when they lacked authority to make decisions and when they were denied the opportunity to learn new skills. Men were less likely than women to gain weight when struggling with family relationships or when upset by their lives in general.

The study, in the July 15 issue of The American Journal of Epidemiology, was from researchers at Harvard's School of Public Health, and it followed a nationally representative sample of 1,355 men and women in the United States over 9 years.

Besides these gender differences that it unearthed, the research made one other important discovery: When subjected to large amounts of psychological stress, those heaviest at the beginning of the study (e.g., a body mass index greater than 30) gained significantly more weight than did those who were closer to normal weight at the study's start. (Read How Stress Can Make You Heavy.)

Logically enough, the scientists encouraged the participants to learn stress-reduction techniques as a means to managing weight. Stress can indeed wreak havoc on health and weight. I often recommend a stress-reduction program to overweight patients.

Here are some steps to take:

  • Become aware of the stressors in your life.
  • Try exercise as a great stress reliever.
  • Adopt a routine of deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Get enough sleep--most people need at least 7 hours a night.
  • Seek counseling if necessary--with a therapist to improve your relationships or with a nutritionist if your diet needs an overhaul.
  • To help the body combat the effects of stress, take a high-quality multivitamin each day, one that contains plenty of antioxidants. I prefer a liquid or chewable vitamin with at least 100 percent of the recommended intakes for B vitamins and vitamin C.




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