Improve Weight Loss by Focusing on Stress and Sleep

How the stress of the pandemic may impact weight and what you can do about it.

Medically reviewed in September 2021

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been a stressful time for many people. Stress is bad for your health in a number of ways, and stress may interfere with weight loss, sleep, and staying consistent with the habits that keep you healthy.

If you are overweight or obese and have experienced a setback with your weight loss goals, know that you are not alone. Also know that there are steps you can take to get back on track. Two steps you can take right now—reduce your stress level and get to bed earlier.

Here’s what one study has to say about weight loss, stress reduction, and sleep.

Reduce Stress: Relax and Snooze
Researchers put 432 obese adults on a standard eat-less/exercise-more weight-loss plan for 6 months. Although most folks lost weight, those with lower stress levels at the start of the study lost a lot more than their anxious counterparts did. Sleep also impacted the amount of weight lost. People who snoozed at least 6—but not more than 8—hours a night were more likely to achieve the study's pre-established slim-down goal of at least 10 pounds, compared to those who got less or more shut-eye. Study participants with the most stress and sleep difficulties were 50 percent less likely than the mellow, well-rested dieters to slim down and reach the study's 10-pound goal.

How It Works
How do stress and poor sleep mess with weight loss? Chronic stress boosts levels of feel-hungry hormones, which leads many people to reach for caloric comfort foods to ease their anxiety. Many of those foods are not only higher in waist-padding sugar and fat, they're also addictive, so the more you eat, the more you crave. Lack of sleep can interfere with your metabolism, cranking up your appetite while making you too weary to exercise.

Talk to your healthcare provider
Obesity, being overweight, and stress are all damaging to your health. It is important to remember that these are not challenges you have to face entirely on your own—your healthcare provider is there to help. If you are struggling to achieve a healthy weight, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to talk about a weight loss plan. Topics to discuss at your appointment may include:

  • Changes to your diet and how you eat.
  • Your activity level and how to exercise safely.
  • Working with a weight loss coach or specialist.
  • Treatment options for obesity, such as weight-loss medications and/or weight-loss surgery.
  • Your stress level, mood, and mental health.
  • Your sleep habits.

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