I came across this article in the New York Times this weekend connecting weight gain and stress:
Stress Can Make the Pounds Accumulate. It is recap of a study published in the journal, Obesity. I'm not going to weigh in on the science here, as that isn't my area of expertise, but my initial response was a sarcastic "no kidding". Of course stress is linked to weight gain!
In their defense, they are looking to understand the "why" beyond the phenomenon. I completely agree with and support the premise of the research. Certainly there is likely a hormone response tying these factors together, but anecdotally, we all get this. Emotional or comfort eating, lesser quality food choices, and overeating are all common reactions to stress. Or, we get too busy and the prospect of shopping and preparing healthy meals feels more like a luxury than a necessity. We have all been there.
I'd like to point out though, that "stress-eating" doesn't actually do anything to reduce stress. It might feel good for a few minutes, but it is a completely self-defeating coping mechanism. No one ever finished a pint of ice cream and said "Wow! I feel so much better now and my stress is markedly decreased." More likely, now their stress is compounded by guilt and feeling bad about themselves.
Let's contrast that with exercise as stress management practice. Too often, I find myself in a hole where I feel too busy or stressed to workout. (Yes, it happens to me too...more often than I will admit.) Sometimes, I can drink my own Kool-Aid and remember that a workout might be just what I need. I have never, ever regretted prioritizing exercise over whatever else it is that I feel like I need to do. In fact, in every instance, I find myself able to come back to the task at hand with more clarity, resolve, and focus to get the job done. Still, even with a 100% track record of success, it is still a struggle.
The only answer I can come up with as to why we choose self-defeating mechanisms like stress eating over productive strategies like exercise is the concept of immediate gratification. I wish I had some magic words of motivation for you (and me!) to make this an easier choice. It just isn't. The best we can do is to summon the knowledge and experience we have all accumulated to try to make better decisions day in and day out.