Healthy Living Blog

Anxiety and Weight Gain

There is a strong relationship between anxiety and weight gain.  Especially during the months surrounding COVID-19, there has been increased attention given to this phenomenon.  There are several reasons why anxiety can lead to weight gain, weight gain can lead to anxiety, and then the vicious cycle can go on and on.

In our culture, we are taught that anxiety is an emotion that is painful and uncomfortable.  When there is uncertainty or chaos, we feel unease and we want to soothe the discomfort.  Eating will always be an easy, convenient, and quick way to do that.  It’s fine to use food to comfort ourselves on occasion.  After all, the first time in our lives that we expressed any uneasy (e.g., crying as a baby), we were usually met with a bottle.  Thus, many of us associate eating and food with comfort and soothing from a young age, and this continues into adulthood.  However, when eating is the ONLY way that we are soothing our anxiety, we are likely to gain weight and then create more problems for ourselves.

Additionally, it is well-known that high levels of anxiety and stress lead to increased cortisol production, and having high cortisol makes it more difficult to lose weight once one has gained.  Our cells become less sensitive to glucose and we are more likely to store fat in a state of constant anxiety.  Thus, maintaining high levels of anxiety (levels that may have increased because of the weight gain that resulted from the overeating) may contribute to stubbornness when it comes to weight loss.

At Structure House, we work with our participants to learn alternative ways to manage anxiety so that food is not always the only tool in the toolbox.  We offer training in meditation, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and acceptance and commitment therapy.  Additionally, the robust fitness programming that we provide on campus (and teach participants how to continue at home) is another powerful way to manage one’s anxiety.  When we are experiencing tension emotionally, discharging through physical activity is a research-proven way to buffer its effects.

Anxiety and weight gain does not have to be a vicious cycle.  At Structure House, we can support our participants in finding a better way to deal with life’s often chaotic twists and turns.

About Katie Rickel, PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Katie Rickel graduated summa cum laude from Duke University with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Florida. She completed an APA-accredited clinical internship in health psychology at Duke University Medical Center, with advanced training in behavioral and bariatric obesity treatment as well as the psychological management of chronic pain and illness. Dr. Rickel also has expertise in treating anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias. Her research has been presented at various professional conferences and published in scientific journals. Dr. Rickel has also appeared on “The Dr. Oz Show” and has been quoted in several popular media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Health magazine, Yahoo! Health, Women’s Health magazine, Weight Watchers magazine, and abcnews.com.

 

Digital publications:

Is Fear Making You Keep the Weight On? The Dr. Oz Show

The Lady on the Scooter: Think Twice Before You Judge, The Dr. Oz Show

The Feeding Tube Diet: A Magical Weight-Loss Solution?, The Dr. Oz Show

An All-Natural Antidepressant, The Dr. Oz Show

Refocusing Your Body Image, The Dr. Oz Show

Cut the Food, Keep Your Social Life, The Dr. Oz Show

Thanksgiving Survival Tips, The Dr. Oz Show

How to Stay Healthy, Even When You’re Traveling, Curvy Girl Health

“DNA Diets”: Miracle or Scam?, Curvy Girl Health

Conquering Your Gym Phobia, Curvy Girl Health

Taking the Scary Out of the Scale, Curvy Girl Health

 

Journal publications:

Selected published abstracts and conference presentations:

  • Rickel, K.A., Gibbons, L.M., Milsom, V.A., DeBraganza, N., Murawski, M.E., Nackers, L.M. & Perri, M. G. (2007). Racial/ethnic differences in the effectiveness of extended care following lifestyle intervention for obesity. Poster presented at the 28th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Washington, D.C. (Published Abstract).
  • Rickel, K.A., Durning, P.E., Debraganza, N., Milsom, V.A., Murawski, M.E., Gibbons, L.M., & Perri, M.G. (2006). Treatment of Obesity in Underserved Rural Settings (TOURS): Changes in physical activity and physical fitness in African-American and Caucasian women. Poster presented at the 27th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. San Francisco, CA.  (Published Abstract).
  • Rickel, K.A., Milsom, V.A., Murawski, M.E., DeBraganza, N., Fox, L.D. Durning, P.E., Janicke, D.M., & Perri, M.G. (2005). Do self-reported changes in diet or exercise predict weight loss in lifestyle treatment of obesity? Poster presented at the 18th Annual College of Public Health and Health Professions Research Day. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.
  • Rickel, K.A., Durning, P.E., & Perri, M.G. (2004). Treatment Preference and Perceived Difficulty as Predictors of Exercise Adherence. Poster presented at the 25th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Baltimore, MD. (Published Abstract).
  • Milsom, V.A., Rickel, K.A., DeBraganza, N., Gibbons, L.M., Nackers, L.M., Durning, P.E., & Perri, M. G. (2007). Contributions of weight loss and physical activity to improvements in fitness and metabolic profile. Poster presented at the 28th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Washington, D.C. (Published Abstract).
  • Gibbons, L.M., DeBraganza, N., Milsom, V.A., Murawski, M.E., Nackers, L.M., Rickel, K.A., Durning, P.E., & Perri, M. G. (2007). Do the benefits of weight-loss treatment outweigh the risks for elderly, obese women? Poster presented at the 28th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Washington, D.C. (Published Abstract).
  • Nackers, L.M., Milsom, V.A., Gibbons, L.M., DeBraganza, N., Rickel, K.A., & Perri, M.G. (2007). Is it better to have lost and regained than to never have lost at all? The impact of weight regain on metabolic risk factors. Poster presented at the 28th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Washington, D.C. (Published Abstract).
  • Milsom, V.A., Gibbons, L.M., Debraganza, N., Rickel, K.A., Murawski, M.E., Durning, P.E., & Perri, M.G. (2006). What constitutes a successful weight-loss outcome? The impact of 5% and 10% weight reduction on metabolic risk factors for disease. Poster presented at the 27th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. San Francisco, CA. (Published Abstract).
  • Gibbons, L.M., Milsom, V.A., Murawski, M.E., Debraganza, N., Rickel, K.A., Durning, P.E., & Perri, M.G. (2006). Length of treatment and successful outcome in the management of obesity.  Poster presented at the 27th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. San Francisco, CA. (Published Abstract).
  • Lutes, L.D., Perri, M.G., Dale, M.S., Milsom, V.A., Debraganza, N., Rickel, K.A., Durning, P.E. & Bobroff, L.B. (2005). Treatment of Obesity in Underserved Rural Settings (TOURS): Changes in nutritional intake in African-American and Caucasian women. Poster presented at the 27th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. San Francisco, CA. (Published Abstract).
  • Fennell, E.B., Kelly, K.G. & Rickel, K.A. (2005). Pediatric case studies in neurocognitive sequelae of familial Myelomeningocele. Poster presented at the 33rd annual meeting of the International Neuropsychological Society. (Published Abstract).
  • Murawski, M.E., DeBraganza, N., Rickel, K.A., Milsom, V.A., Durning, P. E., Fox, L.D., Janicke, D. M., & Perri, M. G. (2005). Treatment of Obesity in Underserved Rural Settings (TOURS): Effects on quality of life. Poster presented at the 26th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Boston, MA. (Published Abstract).
  • Milsom, V.A., Rickel, K.A., Murawski, M.E., DeBraganza, N., & Perri, M.G. (2005). Weight loss improves functional mobility in older obese women. Poster presented at the 26th annual meeting of the Society of Behavioral Medicine. Boston, MA. (Published Abstract).
  • Aranda, M., Meisel, F., Bearn, L., Rickel, K., & Ferrante, F.M. (2001). The effect of ethnicity on the treatment of low back pain. Abstract presented at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. New Orleans, LA.

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