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Dietitian Shares: Minimising Stress to Manage Weight Gain After Baby

pregnant woman on a weight scale

There are always two groups of people when it comes to stress. Some tend to lose weight unintentionally, while others tend to gain weight when they are stressed. The majority of us fall in the latter category. Stress can significantly affect weight gain through a variety of mechanisms, both physiological and behavioural. Therefore, the sooner we understand how impactful stress can be on weight management, the better we can understand how to minimise stress. So let’s take a deep dive into how stress can contribute to weight gain:

1. Hormonal Changes

One of the main hormones that increases when you are stressed is cortisol which increases appetite and cravings for high caloric foods. This is where many of us may crave chips, cakes, cookies and ice cream.

Increases in cortisol levels also tend to increase insulin resistance leading to large fluctuations in blood glucose levels. Long term, this can lead to increased risk of diabetes and many other complications. 

Besides that, it can affect hunger hormones like leptin (the hormone that signals fullness and ghrelin (the hormone that signals hunger), leading to increased hunger and reduced feelings of satiety. Thus, people who are stressed may tend to consume larger portions of food during meal times. 

2. Emotional Eating

Secondly, stress can lead to emotional eating. When you are stressed, your mind is constantly preoccupied. Thus, people often have irregular eating patterns. Many only eat when they feel extremely hungry, which most of the time leads to overeating, as they tend to gobble down food rather quickly when they are starving. 

Besides that, other people may use food as a temporary relief from emotional distress. It is found that eating sweet foods improves mood because it helps to increase levels of serotonin in the brain which can provide a calming and soothing effect, reducing depression

3. Metabolic Changes

Interestingly, the cortisol hormone affects how our body stores and breaks down fat. Chronic stress can increase insulin resistance which eventually increases excessive uptake of glucose from the blood. When glucose uptake is not used, it relocates and stores fat around the waist, which makes it more difficult to lose. Unfortunately, fats around the waist area are linked with a higher risk of heart disease and diabetes.

4. Behavioral Changes

Unsurprisingly, stress disrupts sleep. Researchers have found that the lack of sleep negatively affects the hormones linked to hunger and satiety. Higher ghrelin is secreted as compared to leptin when there’s a lack of sleep which means feeling more hungry easily. Moreover, people who are sleep-deprived not only have more opportunities to eat as they are awake for longer hours, but they also tend to like foods that are higher in calories and carbohydrates. This explains why they crave junk food often. 

Besides that, the constant lack of sleep will cause one to have less energy and motivation to exercise regularly, leading to a more sedentary lifestyle. It is a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario, as exercise can improve sleep and vice versa. Targeting both factors at the same time is crucial for better weight management success.

5. Mental Health

Stress management has been found to be significantly beneficial in weight management among women. A study found that those who had stress management training on top of the standard healthy dietary and physical activity instructions in an 8 weeks programme had about 40% more in BMI reduction (-3.1 vs -.174 kg/m2) compared to those who did not have any stress management training. This shows evidence that stress management should be part of the weight loss programme for a more optimised and holistic approach.

Woman eating salad

Tips to Reduce Stress

Understandably, the impact of mental stress on the body is complex in how it affects weight management. So, here are a few things you can start doing to minimise stress and optimise your chances for a more efficient weight loss journey


If you have not started meditation, it may be worth considering starting today! Daily meditation can help to relax and calm your mind. Setting aside just 5 to 10 minutes a day to meditate and practice deep breathing will help to not only reduce stress levels, it will decrease anxiety, improve focus, enhance mindfulness and increase mental clarity.

Mindful Eating

This takes practice. Part of mindfulness while eating is using all your five senses while having your meal. So it’s good to put your phone and all other electronics aside during meal times to minimise distractions. The main attitude towards your food is to be curious. Use all your senses like the following :

  • your eyes, observe the shape and texture of the food. 
  • your fingers, touch and feel the food if it’s hard, soft, brittle, heavy or light to touch? Was it what you expected from it when you first saw it?
  • your nose to smell the food and try to identify the sweet, floral, buttery or spicy notes. 
  • your tongue to taste the food. Is it sweet, salty, sour, bitter or spicy? It is good to observe and understand the mouthfeel and experience of chewing the different textures and flavours of the food too
  • your ears hear how crunchy or soft the food really is in your mouth. Is it something you like or dislike? 

Do this for the first five to ten minutes. Chew slowly and enjoy it. As you have meals with your friends and family, every now and then, take a pause and savour the food again. This process not only increases the enjoyment of food but also helps the body be more sensitive to hunger and satiety cues. 


Receiving good quality sleep regularly is a big part of energy and mood regulation. When you do feel well rested, the likelihood of feeling stressed out is lower. There would also be increased motivation to exercise regularly which will in turn encourage higher calories output.

Let’s admit it, we all know how bad doom scrolling on your phone is especially right before sleeping. So it is important to improve your sleep hygiene. This means setting up a routine to create an environment to easily relax and sleep. Here are a few things you can easily start incorporating into your bedtime routine:

  1. Put your phone away at least 1 hour before sleeping
  2. If the room is warm, turn on the aircon and cool down the room. Set a timer if needed.
  3. It is always good to sleep in the dark, so turning all the lights off completely is ideal. However, if that is not an option for you, investing in a good and comfortable sleeping eye mask is worth considering. 
  4. If you tend to be one who is sensitive to noise, consider investing in ear plugs that are comfortable to use to sleep too. 
  5. Meditation right before bed seems to be helpful for many to calm down and even fall asleep more easily. Some people prefer reading a book to calm down. It’s a little trial and error before you know what is best for you to have a good night’s sleep.

Incorporate Regular Physical Activity

Physical activity, mental health and stress go hand in hand. Recommended physical activity is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises per week. This means, as simple as brisk walking for at least 30 minutes every other day will be beneficial. If it is possible to have your walk during the day when the sun is out, it will be even better. Going out during the day helps to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm which will help to support better sleep. If a straight 30 minutes is not possible, you can always split it to 15 minutes twice a day or 10 minutes thrice a day. See what works best for you and your schedule. 

Seek Help

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, especially during this time. You need a support system that helps you keep going to care for yourself and your little one. Therefore, if preparing and planning for healthy meals as you breastfeed are incredibly stressful for you during this time, it is worth considering looking out for external help for a monthly meal plan. These days there are a variety of lactation food in Singapore to choose from. If house chores are something that concerns you and stresses you out, then seek help from external helpers, friends or family. Our partners can help you but sometimes they can feel overwhelmed too. So let’s look out for each other and seek external help if needed.


By prioritising self-care, maintaining healthy eating habits, engaging in regular physical activity, and seeking support, new mothers can effectively manage stress and prevent weight gain after having a baby. Remember, the journey to regaining your pre-pregnancy weight is a gradual process, and it’s essential to be kind to yourself along the way.


  • Eunice Tan, In-house Dietitian

    Eunice Tan graduated with a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Dietetics with Nutrition from International Medical University. She is a certified Prenatal Dietitian, Accredited by Singapore Nutrition and Dietetics Association and also the in-house dietitian for Tian Wei Signature and ReLacto. With her expertise and interest in nutrition for women and diet planning, Eunice helps to support mothers get the key nutrients they need for recovery and lactation.