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Posted on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

My recent addiction to nachos and reality TV illustrates link between stress and weight gain

By Eva Johnson


Why I can't stop eating stress with cheese melted on top!

photo by Eva Johnson

My family is trying to move and get our old house ready for sale. Between shuttling myself and my kids across Ann Arbor with our various assortments of clutter-filled boxes and deadlifting these behemouth boxes into the new house, suffice it to say, I have been a stressball.

The stress of this move has turned my normal easygoing blogger personality into a tired lady with no time to write blogs. I still cannot explain how this move somehow pulled me into a temporary addiction to the latest Bachelorette while eating all of these nachos.

Suffice it to say, I am a stress-eater! Since I was curious as to why I couldn't stop eating chips and cheese by the plateful, let me tell you why stress makes many of us eat-ourselves into a weight gain oblivion.

First, I want to give credit to the February 2011 issue of my IDEA Fitness Journal for writing a fantastic article about the connection between stress reduction and exercise called the "Unraveling the Eating/Obesity Knot."

The article explains all about how chronic stress can actually cause us to gain weight. First, when we experience stress, which is defined as: the unspecific response of the body to any stimulus that overcomes, or threatens to overcome, the body's ability to maintain homeostasis (the equilibrium of internal biological mechanisms)," (46) we also cause our bodies to jump-start into a frenzy.

If this stress is ongoing, the effect is chronic stress. If it is a temporary stress, it is referred to as acute stress.

What does your body do with stress? If you have chronic, daily stress, your body will fight it using a little stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol secretion is known to stimulate appetite, causing many of us (about 40 percent) to find the sugary or fatty foods, which in turn make us feel temporarily better.

The authors of this article also point out that many of us also tend to reach for quick-to-prepare meals as well, when we are chronically stressed. (This explains why I am living on junk food.) Can you see how this is a bad cycle?

So, as I eat mounds of melty bad foods, I not only fight my own stress, but I gain weight, rapidly. How to stop this stress eating? Exercise!

In fact, research has found that exercise can "protect against feelings of distress, defend against symptoms of anxiety, guard against depressive symptoms... and enhance psychological well-being." (49) So, even though I am stressed, it will help me to just walk, jog or skip through this move, even though I would rather just hide in my new house on our new recliner and search for mindless reality television.

While many of us can't completely de-stress, at least now you know that your body is fighting it with food. Instead of running to the fridge, try just taking a short run or walk outside today!

Good luck with your stress, and know that I have a new personal goal: No more tortilla chips for a month. Daily exercise of some kind. Oh, and one glass of wine at night. I am hoping to take this stress and push it away soon!

Eva Johnson is an ACE (American Council on Exercise) certified personal trainer, who vows to stop buying tortilla chips today. She lives in chaos with her husband and two boys. To see her complete blog about how to stay sane and in shape in the real world, visit


Sarah Rigg

Thu, Jul 7, 2011 : 1:39 p.m.

I don't believe in the concept of "good foods" and "bad foods," but I get where you're coming from. I'm also tempted to eat things I wouldn't normally or in amounts I wouldn't normally consume out of stress. I also find that exercise is the #1 best stress buster for me. Nachos are easier than a bike ride or a swim, but I certainly feel better all around about myself after the bike ride!