Reducing stress can help people control their weight, a study finds.
Overweight mothers ate less fast-food and fewer high-fat snacks after taking a stress reduction course.
The course focused on how the stressed mothers could lead a more healthy lifestyle and not on lecturing them.
For example, they were shown how to recognise when they were stressed and to take a deep breath to cope with it.
Mothers watched videos that helped them with prioritising and time management.
Dr Mei-Wei Chang, the study’s first author, said:
“We used the women’s testimonies in the videos and showed their interactions with their families to raise awareness about stressors.
After watching the videos, a lot of intervention participants said, ‘This is the first time I’ve realized I am so stressed out’ — because they’ve lived a stressful life.
Many of these women are aware of feeling impatient, and having head and neck pain and trouble sleeping — but they don’t know those are signs of stress.”
The study included 338 overweight mothers on low incomes who all had children under 5-years-old.
Many were facing a number of difficulties, including poor living conditions, unstable relationships and financial problems.
Of the total, 212 participants were shown videos in which other women like them gave testimonials about food preparation, healthy eating, exercise and managing stress.
They also had access to an online support group.
The results showed that mothers who reduced their stress also decreased their consumption of high-fat foods.
Dr Chang said:
“It’s not that these women didn’t want to eat healthier.
If you don’t know how to manage stress, then when you are so stressed out, why would you care about what you eat?”
The tips mothers were given were very practical, such as using a chart to assign jobs to their children and rewarding kids for being well-behaved.
For stress management, mothers were encouraged not to blame themselves, but instead to think about how they could solve the problem.
Dr Chang said:
“I learned a lot from those women.
Everything needs to be practical and applicable to daily life — anytime, anywhere.”
Self-awareness of stress is important, said Dr Chang:
“We raised their awareness about stressors in their lives, and unfortunately a lot of these problems are not within their control.
So we teach them ways to control their negative emotions — remember that this is temporary, and you can get through it.
And give them confidence to look to the future.”
→ Read on: self-compassion is vital for stress reduction.
The study was published in the journal Nutrients (Chang et al., 2021).