How Stress Can Help Make Weight Loss Even Harder

A new study finds stress can increase your cravings for sweets.

ByABC News
August 10, 2015, 1:32 PM

— -- In the battle of the bulge, sometimes willpower can wilt and a new study says the culprit could be stress.

The study, published this month in the journal “Neuron,” found that participants who experienced even moderate stress were more likely to choose food that tasted good over healthier options, when compared to the control group.

The reason, according to the study’s University of Zurich-based authors, is that stress changed brain chemistry to make self-control harder.

“When people are under stress, their body actually wants to have glucose,” said Maya Feller, a New York-based registered dietician and nutritionist, who was not involved in the study. “Why? That’s the brain’s preferred source of energy.”

“You can get it in many ways,” she said. “Usually the fastest, cheapest, most convenient way is cake, cookies and soda.”

Two years ago, Candace Coclough, a web editor, weighed 190 pounds.

“I was having ulcers, heartburn every night,” Coclough told ABC News. “And I was just pretty much tired of feeling that way.”

Coclough, 31, started eating healthy and working out and lost 40 pounds.

She would like to lose seven more pounds but says stress -– she is getting over a recent breakup and looking for a new apartment -– has been her biggest enemy to reaching her goal weight.

“When I’m stressed I definitely have the urge to reach to all my old vices,” Coclough said. “It’s a struggle to try to stay on track.”

Feller says the best way to fight back against stress is to, “Plan, plan, plan and then plan some more.”

Feller’s plan, which includes packing your lunch and snacks for work, is one echoed by Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ Senior Medical Contributor.

“We have to deal with stress or it will deal with us,” said Ashton, a practicing Ob-Gyn, who says she herself uses diet, exercise and meditation to combat stress.

“We want to reach for something that we can use as medicine,” Ashton said.

Ashton suggests adding lavender to lemonade and letting it soak for a week in the refrigerator. After that, add muddled blueberries and honey as needed to the lemonade concoction to create a stress-busting drink.