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Don't let stress sabotage your diet

By Rebecca Clyde, Contributor  |  Posted Jul 21st, 2016 @ 8:31pm



SALT LAKE CITY — Raise your hand if you’re stressed. Whether it be work, family, money, health or your diet, you along with 24 percent of Americans reported dealing with extreme stress in 2015. We’ve gotten to the point to accept stress as a totally normal part of life, but this extreme stress really shouldn’t be normal because it's no good for your health and well being. According to the Mayo Clinic, elevated stress levels may lead to:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety/restlessness
  • Sadness/depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often.

Directly or indirectly, all of these symptoms affects how and what we eat, they also affect our weight. A study of over 15,000 adolescent females found that dieting five-plus times in the past year was correlated with emotional stress in a number of ethnic groups. So, dieting can cause stress, which leads to a number of additional issues that don’t do anything to promote healthy habits.

In addition to increasing emotional stress, low-calorie dieting has also been shown to increase cortisol levels, which may hinder your weight loss efforts.

So dieting can easily cause stress, but how about adding the element of comparing yourself to the thin ideal portrayed in the media? Odds are you don’t look like the women and men in magazines and on TV — not because you’re a fat cow, but because of Photoshop and the dangerous promotion of disordered eating patterns surrounding us. Not being able to look hot like women and men in the media can cause additional emotional distress, particularly because this ideal is so far from what’s typically healthy and attainable for people. Remember it’s not real.


Need more reasons to avoid letting dieting stress you out? A study that followed the weight, perceived weight, health habits and psychological factors of 5th and 6th graders found that 57 percent of children were normal weight for their age, 32 percent were overweight or obese and 17 percent of those children overestimated their weights.

Even though 32 percent were considered overweight or obese, many had desirable lifestyles and followed healthy weight-control methods (they ate well and exercised often). While the kids that overestimated their body weight followed less healthy weight-management methods, had unhealthy reasons to lose weight and they were more likely to be sad when comparing their own bodies to others’ bodies. Since weight undeservedly gains most of our attention, we need to refocus that attention to a healthy lifestyle instead. Because from this study and so many others, weight does not predict health as directly as lifestyle habits do.

Take-home message #1:

Stress from life, restrictive dieting that can lead to stress and comparing yourself to the unreal images in the media can all lead to unhealthy habits, dislike of healthy habits and frustration.

Take-home message #2:

It takes some work and planning but you can eat healthy without dieting with these tips:

  • Address your personal reasons for overeating
  • Focus on eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Find enjoyable ways to exercise
  • Recruit support from family and friends
  • Don’t be overly restrictive and keep your changes small

Rebecca Clyde

About the Author: Rebecca Clyde

Rebecca is a registered dietitian nutritionist who runs a nutrition business based out of Salt Lake City and blogs over at

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