Procrastination Leads to Weight Gain!

How Procrastination Affects Weight Gain
By Heather Hamilton, PhD., LMHC, NCC, DCC  |  ©2022BreakThrough!

Putting It Off – Can Put the Pounds On!

Procrastination affects our health and wellness because it may be causing us to gain weight! It’s more than putting off a diet or exercise plan. Procrastination increases anxiety, which then increases our appetite and particularly, cravings for sugar and carbs. So…even if you eat right and exercise, you may be retaining in excess of 300 calories a day simply due to procrastination.

When we procrastinate or put off a task, it’s generally because we dislike (or fear) the process itself or we perceive that the outcome of the task has some negative value to us. That might be the thought of doing something mundane when we’d rather be having fun. Relaxing and hanging out with friends instead of being alone and doing chores. Tax time is a perfect example of motivation, work effort, and perceived outcome. If I expect a refund, my taxes are done on February 1st. If I owe money, it’s more likely I’ll do them in April (okay the 15th).

Not all things are that simple, but what is the cost of procrastination? In the case of taxes, if I know I owe, now I have several months of subconscious apprehension. I wonder how much will I owe? If I go out shopping with a girlfriend and see something I want, now I feel apprehension. Can I really afford this? Without knowing what I owe the IRS, I can’t answer the question.

The longer I procrastinate, the more the apprehension spills over in day-to-day living. I drive past the gas station…wow, the price of gas has really gone up! I begin to wonder if I should cancel or postpone an upcoming road trip.  Without knowing what I owe the IRS, now I’m second-guessing decisions or plans I made just a few months earlier. At the grocery store…I wonder if I should try the less expensive store label rather than what I’m used to. Unconsciously the “unknown” coupled with my punitive perception of the IRS, is now subtly hijacking my thoughts every day.  The unknown outcome is stirring up apprehension and anxiety where there was none just a few months earlier. Through avoidance and procrastinating, I’m trying to escape reason and convince myself that by waiting longer, somehow the number might change in my favor. Logically, I know that’s not true, but if I don’t see it; it’s not real today.

Procrastination Does Not Alleviate Stress

Procrastination increases our psychological stress levels. When that happens our primitive brain increases the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Now, with a few exceptions, our brain, in its effort to ensure we remain alive, does not distinguish between self-induced anxiety and other provoking stressors.

When we’re stressed, cortisol (the primary stress hormone) increases sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream and boosts the brain’s use of glucose. In this phase of the stress response, we’re quickly depleting our available energy resources. However, several hours following the event there’s a glucocorticoid rebound which stimulates hunger and an increased drive to consume foods rich in carbohydrates.  This rebound effect is what prompts us to urgently seek and eat HFS to quickly restore our energy resources.

Chronically elevated glucocorticoids lead to stimulated appetite, energy conservation, and excessive weight gain [21,22, 23]. Activation of this circuitry also interacts with the HPA axis to suppress its further activation, meaning not only can stress encourage eating but for a while, eating will then suppress the feelings of stress [21]. This chronic response to stress is circular in nature. Excessive glucocorticoid production and/or elevated basal glucocorticoids lead to energy conservation (couch) and appetite stimulation (eating). Chronic stress also increases the perceived reward value of high-glycemic (HFS) food items making them seem even more attractive to us! [21]

Now, Let’s BreakThrough!

Great information right? But now what do we do? The answer when we have those nagging tasks or apprehension is to brain dump everything onto paper. Every thought that starts with “I should” or “I really should have…” “I know I have to but…” you get the picture. Once you put this mess on paper sort it into the following categories:

  • What I have to do
  • What I can do
  • What would be nice to do
  • What needs to be done by someone else

If you want to downregulate stress, focus your time and attention on the “Have to do”. Set a realistic goal and schedule time(s) to complete the task. As the “Have to do’s” get whittled down then focus on the other parts of the process.

      We hope you have enjoyed this article from The BreakThrough! Program.

References & Related Topics

[21] Ferreira de Sá, D. S., Schulz, A., Streit, F. E., Turner, J. D., Oitzl, M. S., Blumenthal, T. D., & Schächinger, H. (2014). Cortisol, but not intranasal insulin, affects the central processing of visual food cues. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 50311-320. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.09.006

[22 Gonnissen, H. J., Hulshof, T., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2013). Chronobiology, endocrinology,and energy- and food-reward homeostasis. Obesity Reviews: An Official Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 14(5), 405-416. doi:10.1111/obr.12019

[23] Lupien, B. S. McEwen, M.  R. Gunnar, C. (2009). Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognitionNat Rev Neurosci. Jun; 10(6): 434–445. Published online 2009 Apr 29. doi: 10.1038/nrn2639

Go Back to Updates & Articles
Learn more about The BreakThrough! Program

Scroll to Top