February 24, 2021–Religion may offer protection against stress-related weight gain, according to a new study published in The Journal of Religion and Health. Touro College Graduate School of Social Work professor Steven Pirutinsky surveyed Orthodox Jews and found that while stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic generally correlated with weight gain, this trend was not present among deeply religious people.
“Religion provides alternative avenues for coping with stress,” said Dr. Pirutinsky, who studies the intersections between spirituality, religion, culture, mental health, and well-being, particularly within the Orthodox Jewish community. He surveyed 983 Orthodox Jews between March and May of 2020. Among those surveyed, people who were more religious were less likely to report that they gained weight during the first months of the pandemic compared to those who were less religious.
Research has shown that religion improves people’s psychological well-being by offering comfort, support and hope, and this may be most apparent in times of stress. Orthodox Jews who follow religious laws and customs enjoy the benefits of filling everyday life with a sense of purpose and meaning. Adherence to faith tenets and halacha requires self-control and self-regulation. According to Pirutinsky, this may also provide increased ability to control diet and weight gain. Engaging in religious activity also shifts people’s attention away from eating and toward meaningful activities.
Dr. Pirutinsky says the study offers relevant lessons for mental health providers treating highly stressed patients and for religious people; nurturing your spiritual side can also benefit you emotionally and physically. “Even during a pandemic, religion and spirituality can promote better health and wellbeing,” he said.
To learn more about Touro’s Graduate School of Social Work visit gssw.touro.edu