Stress Beefs Up the Waistline — How Stressed Are You?

The latest “Skinny on Obesity” episode, “A Fast-Paced, Fast Food Life,” focuses not just on what we put in our mouths, but how we live our lives. UCSF experts Elissa Epel and Barbara Laraia explain the connection between stress and obesity and offer practical, effective solutions that don’t involve dieting and exercise.

How do researchers even measure stress? One way is the Perceived Stress Scale, developed by Sheldon Cohen and his colleagues in 1983. The Perceived Stress Scale aims to measure the degree in which situations in one’s life are appraised as stressful. It was developed to address the link between the occurrence of stressful events and the perception by the respondent regarding how threatening or demanding such an event was. This scale can provide an index of chronic stress or strain, and coping with these stresses.

So… how stressed are you? Take the stress quiz and find out. Just answer the ten simple questions, then follow the instructions to calculate your score and gauge where you fall on the scale.

Scores around 13 are considered average. Researchers at UCSF’s Center for Obesity Assessment, Study and Treatment (COAST) have found that high stress groups usually have a stress score of around 20 points. Scores of 20 or higher are considered high stress, and if you are in this range, you might consider learning new stress reduction techniques as well as increasing your exercise to at least three times a week. High psychological stress is associated with high blood pressure, higher BMI, larger waist to hip ratio, shorter telomere length, higher cortisol levels, suppressed immune function, decreased sleep, and increased alcohol consumption. These are all important risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

If you find yourself in the high range, you might consider looking into some of these suggested stress reduction resources from UCTV and the folks at COAST:

UCTV videos on Managing Stress

Stress Less: The New Science That Shows Women How to Rejuvenate the Body and the Mind (2010) by Thea Singer (Hudson Street Press)

The Healthy Mind, Healthy Body Handbook (1996) by David Sobell & Robert Orenstein (Time Life Medical, Patient Education Media Corporation)

The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, 5th ed. (2000) by Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman and Matthew McKay

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An updated guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping (1998) by Robert M. Sapolsky (New York: Freeman and Co., educational only)

Stress: Portrait of a Killer, Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s website

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (1990) by Jon Kabat-Zinn. (Dell/Bantam Publishing Co.)

Mayo Clinic Stress Center


9 thoughts on “Stress Beefs Up the Waistline — How Stressed Are You?

  1. Great episode! Very refreshing that you’re emphasizing mindfulness of someone’s mental state of eating to quell anxiety and working on obesity from that point of view. As opposed to quick fix diets that never really work. My criticism is that you mentioned cortisol but never really explain it in any of the previous episode. From what I’ve read cortisol is a very important piece of the obesity equation.

  2. Well, that is a strange one. I took the 10 stress-test questions, and did not get a result.

  3. Thanks for writing this blog, gave me eaorucngement to keep at the Gupta Programme! I’ve only been doing the actual retraining (stop technique, alternate nostril breathing and meditation) for 5 days, but something inside me is already saying “oh it hasn’t worked, just give up!” Any tips on how to overcome this? Also I seem to be more stressed and anxious at the moment, as i’ve realised that now my health is in my control, and thats a scary thought! Any help would be much appreciated!RosieXxxx

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