How Stress Makes You Fat

Gaining weight even though your eating and exercise habits haven't changed? Here's how to break the cycle.
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How Stress Makes You Fat

Laurel Green isn't really sure how she managed to put on more than 30 pounds between her 40th and 45th birthdays. "Sure, I overate occasionally, but I certainly didn't gorge all the time on lots of junk or fast food," says the mother of three from Shawnee Mission, Kansas.

And it's not as though Green were sedentary either -- far from it. Her job as a physical therapist and director of a hospital center for women's health kept her on her feet much of the day. That's why formal exercise often took a backseat. That and the fact that she was also dealing with her younger son's ADHD diagnosis; caring for her aging mother, who had suffered a stroke and gotten hip-replacement surgery; and locking horns with her teenage son over his grades.

As it turns out, these personal struggles in and of themselves likely explain some of Green's added pounds. According to a large, not-yet-published study, the stresses of midlife may be a direct contributor to weight gain. "Women in midlife have a lot going on, and these pressures appear to cause some women's bodies to conserve more fat," says lead investigator Tene T. Lewis, PhD, a health psychologist at Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago.

Dr. Lewis and her colleagues asked more than 2,000 women in their 40s and 50s, all participants in a long-term project called the Study of Women's Health Across the Nation, about negative or stressful life events they had experienced in the past year. The list of "bad things" women were asked about included being fired or laid off, experiencing major money worries, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce. Researchers discovered that the more stressors a woman reported, the more weight she had gained over four years, even after taking into account variables that influence weight, such as diet, exercise, smoking, and age.

Continued on page 2:  Pressure Adds Pounds


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