Changing your diet to overcome anxiety is the first step to successful weight loss

December 27, 20120 Comments

The Christmas holidays may have been full of cheer, but there’s no doubt that the effort and expense involved can leave our stress levels sky high.

We all react to it in different ways, but there is mounting evidence that one of the most insidious side-effects of chronic stress is an infuriating inability to lose weight.

And the way your body deals with stress could provide the clues that can help you become calmer and slimmer, explains nutritional therapist and TV diet expert Charlotte Watts, who has written a ground-breaking book on the issue.

Beat the bulge: Understanding your stress type will help you lose weightBeat the bulge: Understanding your stress type will help you lose weight

Perhaps you are someone who collapses in a tearful heap. Or maybe you fret over endless lists, while others go down with every passing cough and cold.

Not only does feeling stressed and tired cause us to look for an instant energy fix (often found in high-calorie or high carbohydrate foods) but it also makes any excess weight we are carrying harder to lose.

Excess stress hormones in the body encourage fat storage, especially that hard-to-shift type around the middle.

Most diets are doomed to fail if you are stressed. But eating and lifestyle changes can tackle how you react to stress, according to the new book The De-stress Diet.

Take the quiz below to pinpoint your stress type. If you answer yes to three or more questions in any section, that could be your problem. Just follow the expert advice for a slimmer, calmer, healthier 2012.


  • Do you often feel bloated after eating?
  • Do you have irritable bowel syndrome-type symptoms that get worse when you are stressed?
  • Do you have food sensitivities?
  • Have you been on long-term steroid medications, anti-inflammatories and/ or antibiotics?
  • Are you prone to headaches?
  • Is your diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates?

If this is your stress type, many of your problems are caused by insufficient beneficial bacteria in your gut, triggering sugar cravings and digestive problems such as IBS and weight gain.

WHAT TO DO: Increase your intake of natural prebiotics, which help promote good bacteria. They are found in veg (particularly Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, bananas, garlic, onions and leeks) or use supplements. Take digestive enzyme capsules at the start of each meal (around £9 for 100 from health stores) to help your body break down food.

Chew everything properly and wait an hour after eating protein before having fruit as it can cause gut fermentation and gas.

Cut down on sugars, alcohol and caffeine, which can reduce levels of beneficial bacteria and lead to gas, poor immunity and yeast overgrowth (candida).

Eat slowly and chew thoroughly to give your digestion the best chance to work effectively. Get tested for food intolerances (dairy, eggs, fish and grains) as low levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut can make it over-sensitive.


  • Do you feel on constant alert?
  • Do you react quickly to stressful events?
  • Do you struggle to relax?
  • Do you feel under pressure to take charge of things?
  • Do you feel increasingly unable to cope?
  • Are you prone to mood swings or have a tendency towards irritability?

This is one of the most common stress types, and is particularly harmful in the long term because it wears out our physical and mental systems. The adrenal glands (which control many stress hormones) are on  overload, triggering raised appetite and food cravings.

WHAT TO DO: Make sure you are getting all your nutrients by eating protein with every meal (eggs, meat or fish), healthy fats and plenty of vegetables.

Consider taking supplements containing zinc, iron, B vitamins, vitamin C, iodine and magnesium, commonly lost from the body during the stress response.

Nutrients needed: Eating more fruit and veg will help those who are wired and stressedNutrients needed: Eating more fruit and veg will help those who are wired and stressed

Don’t ignore tiredness: unwind in the evenings and try a few minutes of slow breathing each morning or before bed. Slow down your exercise regime. Avoid anything competitive so there is no stressful need to achieve.


  • Do you often complain of feeling cold when others are warm?
  • Do you have poor circulation and are prone to fluid retention?
  • Is your hair thinning and are you losing the edges of your eyebrows?
  • Do you often find it difficult to concentrate?
  • Do you have less and less energy?
  • Do you have a hoarse voice?
  • Do you wake up unrefreshed?

These symptoms are often signs that stress is causing your thyroid gland (which controls metabolism) to under-perform. It’s your body’s way of slowing you down to conserve energy. This makes weight loss harder than ever.

WHAT TO DO: Balance your blood sugar levels to keep energy constant by eating less sugar and refined carbohydrates, and eating protein and good fats with each meal. Cut back on alcohol and coffee. Don’t skimp on exercise — it stimulates sluggish thyroid glands.

Try yoga. Head-down poses encourage blood flow and the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the thyroid gland.

Stretch: Head down yoga positions encourage blood flowStretch: Head down yoga positions encourage blood flow

Protein and leafy greens contain an amino acid called tyrosine, which helps the thyroid produce thyroxine which re-invigorates the metabolism.

Avoid raw cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale as they can interfere with thyroid function.

Eat warming foods such as chilli, ginger, green tea, turmeric, cider vinegar, horseradish and wasabi to warm you up.

Consider taking the thyroid- stimulating nutrients iron, zinc, copper, selenium and iodine (found in mackerel, cod, shellfish and seaweeds).


  • Are you prone to hay fever, asthma, eczema, arthritis or psoriasis?
  • Do you get frequent ear, nose and throat infections?
  • Do you have a tendency to fluid retention and weight fluctuations?
  • Are you prone to headaches?
  • Have you been on long-term steroid medications, anti-inflammatories and/or antibiotics?
  • Is your diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates?
  • Do you have osteoporosis, heart disease or joint problems?

These symptoms could be  signs that your immune system is on overdrive. This saps energy,  and suppresses the appetite- satisfaction hormones ghrelin and leptin, making weight loss particularly difficult.

WHAT TO DO: Reduce your intake of sugar to cut down the harmful inflammatory reactions it may be causing in your body.

Boost your intake of foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, beta- carotene (found in fresh, brightly coloured fruit and vegetables), as well as the beneficial bioflavonoids and polyphenols found in spices, tea, green tea and garlic (as well as red wine and dark chocolate).

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake to ensure you don’t get dehydrated (because they contain potassium and sugars, they  help the water they contain enter cells more easily than just drink-ing water).

Low levels of omega 3 in the diet can lead to inflammation, making eczema, asthma, dermatitis, hay fever, migraines and arthritis worse — stress exacerbates the effect. An omega 3 supplement may help.

Weight training is a must to strengthen bones and maintain healthy joint lubrication. Avoid hard cardiovascular workouts  and choose gentle jogging or walking instead.


  • Do you get PMS or have a history of menstrual problems?
  • Do you have fibroids, endometriosis or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
  • Do you get pre-menstrual or ovulation sugar cravings?
  • Do you get hormonal phases of irritability, crying and/or negative thoughts?
  • Do you have menopausal symptoms?
  • Do you have fertility issues?
  • Have you used hormonal contraception (the Pill, IUD or implant) for years?

Affecting women only, this body type thrives on stress hormones interacting with oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, skewing the delicate balance your hormonal system needs to function well and leading to weight gain typically on the bottom, hips and thighs.

WHAT TO DO: Reduce your alcohol consumption as it can raise circulating oestrogen and may worsen PMS.

Organic meat, eggs and dairy products tend to be lower in growth hormones, which may disrupt your hormone balance.

Eat a little fermented soy in the form of soy sauce, tamari, miso  and tempeh — the Chinese and Japanese have found this can  help regulate the balance of  female hormones.

Eat plenty of fibre to ensure effective elimination of excess hormones via the bowel (constipation may cause hormones  and toxins to be re-absorbed into the body).

Exercise every day — it is a crucial physical process that increases hormone balance by boosting circulation and detoxification.


  • Do you wake up feeling weary?
  • Do you have energy dips?
  • Do you rely on sugar or caffeine to perk you up?
  • Do you feel fuzzy-headed?
  • Are you exhausted by evening?
  • Do you sleep badly?
  • Do you get fluid retention?

If you’ve been a ‘wired’ stress type for a while, you can easily become a tired type, which can result in crashes that leave you unable to function without unhealthy sugar or stimulants.

Energy boost: Tired and stressed people should eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercressEnergy boost: Tired and stressed people should eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercress

WHAT TO DO: Swap external energy fixes such as sugar, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes for a multivitamin and mineral supplement to boost iron, B and C vitamins and magnesium.

Eat more red meat, fish and eggs, spinach and watercress (all rich in
iron) and poultry, milk, tofu and mushrooms (for vitamin B12).

Get more fluid by increasing fruit and veg intake and exercise to
reduce stress hormones.


  • Do you often feel as if you can’t be bothered to do anything?
  • Do you have a tendency to depression?
  • Do you use sugar and refined carbohydrates for comfort?
  • Do you have late-night binges or over-eating sessions?
  • Do you sleep badly?
  • Are you prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Don’t blame lack of willpower — stress has depleted the feelgood hormones serotonin and dopamine.

Low levels are linked to depression, and make you susceptible to junk food cravings as your body searches for a quick fix boost.

WHAT TO DO: Take an Omega-3 supplement to increase receptiveness
to serotonin and dopamine. Eat protein with every meal to ensure a consistent supply of energy to the brain to maintain a healthy mood.

Replenish probiotic gut bacteria with bio-yogurt and cut back on sugar. Take a magnesium supplement. Exercise outdoors. Laugh, listen to music, socialise, have sex: natural opioids are produced in response to these natural highs.


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