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Cut Calories, GAIN Weight?

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I believe weight loss is a lot more complicated than calories in versus calories out. There are numerous factors that influence weight control, including hormones, and a new study from the University of California, San Francisco confirms the connection.


Researchers randomly assigned 121 women to one of four diets:

Group one tracked their calories, keeping them to 1,200 a day

Group two ate normally, but recorded the number of calories they consumed

Group three ate 1,200 calories a day, but did not have to record them, and

Group four ate normally without any calorie-tracking


At the beginning and end of the three-week study, the researchers measured each woman's cortisol and stress levels. When calories were restricted, cortisol levels increased. In addition, calorie-counting (even without cutting) made the women feel more stressed out.


Cortisol is a stress hormone that revs up appetite, spikes cravings for fatty and sugary foods, and leads to weight gain, particularly belly fat.


This research supports the theory that there are physiological as well as psychological side effects to calorie constraint. So what can you do? Commit to a formal stress management strategy. Think of it as a crucial component of weight management, just as vital as healthy eating and exercise.


Speaking of exercise, for some people, it lowers stress. Honestly, it doesn’t always work for me. When I feel stressed out, I have to do something that either a) really distracts my brain, so I can’t think about what’s causing my stress (like practicing my guitar or researching something online) b) allows me to vent (talking to my sister, journaling) or c) makes me feel happy (like snuggling my kitty, going to the dog park to watch the doggies play, watching old episodes of Arrested Development or 30 Rock).


What works for one person may not work for another, and where you fall on the stress-o-meter can also determine what’s effective. I recommend trying out a variety of activities and commit to spending at least 5 minutes a day doing something, such as:



Tai Chi


Progressive relaxation

Deep breathing


Spending time in nature

Listening to relaxing music


Studies have found that meditation and relaxing music can slash cortisol levels by 20-60%.


What’s your stress strategy? Please share!


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