(CNN)Could constant stress be making you fat?
To find out, English researchers compared stress levels and body weight of more than 2,500 men and women over age 54 who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Obesity,looked at the levels of a stress hormone called cortisol in locks of hair gathered from participants.
“We found levels of cortisol in the hair to be positively and significantly correlated to larger waist circumference and higher body mass index or BMI,” said lead author Sarah Jackson, a research associate at the Institute of Epidemiology and Health at University College London.”These results provide consistent evidence that chronic stress is associated with higher levels of obesity.”
The researchers will “continue to weigh and measure our study participants every four years to determine the ways stress affects body mass over time,” Jackson said.
In the meantime, she suggests that people under chronic stress look to ways other than eating to ease their tensions, such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness.
“There’s a lot of evidence that cortisol influences appetite and even our preference for high-calorie comfort foods,” Jackson said. “So I know that’s tough. But it’s best to look for better ways to manage stress and avoid using food as a crutch.”