By: Guest Blogger Natalie Shay
Do you find yourself gaining weight despite your best efforts to eat right? Maybe it’s time you check in with your stress levels. We already know that stress is not good for us, but there is growing evidence and many studies that indicate stress makes us gain weight.
There are two different factors that contribute to this.
First, fat is stored differently in your body when you are stressed. Fat goes to your abdominal area and causes an imbalance in your blood-sugar levels. This is caused by an increase in cortisol, a hormone, in your body. 
Second, stress leads to more physical cravings for food. If you are prone to emotional eating, stress increases these desires. Let’s take a look at a study where 68 people volunteered to participate in “the effects of hunger on physiology, performance, and mood.” When the participants arrived they were asked to prepare a 4-minute speech and told they would be filmed in order to increase their stress levels. They were given a meal that included sweet, salty, or bland high- and low-fat foods. Those prone to emotionally comforting themselves with food ate the sweet high-fat foods compared to those categorized as unstressed and non-emotional eaters that didn’t turn to food for comfort. 
Now that we know stress is bad for our health and it can make us gain weight, what is the solution? You need to assess your own stress levels.
You can try this 5 Minute Stress Test and see how you’re currently managing.
Now that you have a better idea of how stressed you actually are, you can start building your “toolbox” to help you cope. Here are some general tools to get you started.
1) Start a self-care regime
Spend 30 minutes a day taking care for yourself.
I know this sounds like a lot, especially if you are working and have a family, but it can be done, and it will improve your life overall. You can take this time during your lunch hour (which means you have to start taking your lunch hour), or block half an hour off in your calendar each day to stop the rat race and slow down.
2) Start breathing
Take 10 minutes a day (this can be done in the half an hour of your you-time). Studies have shown that meditating changes your brain patterns, improves your mood and lowers your stress levels. 
Put your hands on your stomach with the tips of your fingers touching and take a breath through your nose. Start off inhaling for a count of 3 and then exhale for a count of 3. You can work your counting breath up to 7 seconds. This will slow your mind and your heart rate. You will notice your hands separating slightly on the inhale as your stomach rises and coming back together on the exhale and you push all the air out of your stomach. Over the next month, try this once a day for a count of ten.
3) Notice your emotions when you eat
Before and after you eat, write down what you are feeling. This will allow start feeling your emotions and stop turning to food to push them down. So start noticing your feelings. Are you bored? Sad? Angry? Lonely? This may sound simple, but many clients tell me it’s hard for them to be able to recognize their emotions. So, start by pausing for a minute before and after you eat and try to identify what you’re feeling. When you try this, be honest with yourself without being hard on yourself.
4) Start talking
If you find it difficult to manage your stress, speak to a friend you trust or a professional. A large part of the problem is that you are building the stress up without a release. If you speak about it, you will deflate the intensity of the situation, which will reduce stress.