In an Ohio State University study, overweight low-income mothers were given guidance on healthy lifestyle interventions and stress management. The study found that when participants experienced lower stress, they ended up eating less junk food!
According to the study’s lead author, everyone wants to eat healthier. But when facing what seems like insurmountable stress, a healthy lifestyle falls on the backburner. This study’s participants faced particularly stressful lives: Financial insecurity, tumultuous relationships, living in underserved neighborhoods, frequent moves and households full of young children, to name a few.
Participants underwent a 16-week program. The goal was to curb weight gain through tactics to lower stress, eat better and be more active. Helpful strategies were shared via video demonstrations featuring women of similar backgrounds and circumstances as the participants.
Tips covered things like easy, affordable healthy swaps, such as opting for a bag of apples instead of a bag of chips. The chips may be slightly cheaper, but the apples will feed a family with healthy snacks for longer. An example of a work-management technique was assigning household chores to children. Upon completion, they received rewards like free gifts, like a hug or individual attention. Even simple but highly effective techniques, like breathwork to overcome stress, were covered. The women also had access to 10 phone-in peer support group teleconferences.
Numerous participants reported that this was the first time they were acutely aware of their stress levels. The researchers found that many of the women were aware of their symptoms – impatience, head and neck pain, sleeping problems, etc. But they did not know that these problems stemmed from excessive stress. The findings showed that a key driver influencing lower junk food consumption wasn’t the researchers telling them what to do. Rather, this change was linked directly to the participants’ own lowered perceived stress levels.
An important thing to remember, in tandem with other weight-loss efforts, are your levels of stress. High degrees of stress mean we opt for simple, cheap options like junk food. When we harness the power of stress reduction techniques, we are then more able to make better lifestyle choices.