Part I: How Stress Affects Your Weight
By Hallie Freedman
It’s a known fact that stress is a big factor in packing on the pounds. After a recent conversation with a new friend on Facebook I realized that many people do not know why stress contributes to their weight gain, they just know it does. One reason is a result of a stress hormone, Cortisol. When our bodies undergo stress we experience a fight or flight response, which releases a variety of hormones.
Regardless of what is causing our stress, our body has a similar experience. For example, your body cannot differentiate between office-based work stress and actual danger. Our body reacts as if we are going to be harmed and we need to fight for our lives. When our body responds this way, we experience an energy burst, shifts in metabolism and blood flow, amongst other changes.
It is harmful to your health to remain in this state for long periods of time as that becomes known as chronic stress. In addition to many health issues, chronic stress (and cortisol) can lead to weight gain.
Specific areas affected by chronic stress and cortisol:
- Metabolism: Do you put on more weight when you feel stressed, even if your eating habits haven’t changed? A body that provides too much cortisol slows down your metabolism, which causes more weight gain than what may be typical for your body. This can also increase frustration with
dietingsince it may hinder results even when eating a perfect balanced meal plan.
- Cravings: Do your cravings appear when you’re stressed? Do you give in to them or do you stick to your healthy meal plan? I know I used to grab a jar of peanut butter, a
dietcoke and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. No wonder I was 30 pounds heavier than my friend who always kept salad on hand for those stressful eating sessions. My actions are pretty common amongst people who experience stress. When under stress we crave fatty, salty and sugary foods; typically, the processed stuff that’s not good for us and will lead to weight gain.
- Blood Sugar: Chronic stress can change your
blood sugar levels. I know when my blood sugar changes it causes mood swings, fatigue, and even hyperglycemia (AKA High Blood Sugar) which makes me bounce off the walls before the sugar spike drops and I crash (getting a good picture?). Chronic stress has also been linked to more serious health issues like heart attacks and diabetes, but let’s keep this a bit lighter, shall we?
- Fat Storage: Another issues I’ve struggled with is FAT storage. Wouldn’t you know that chronic stress can also affect WHERE you store fat in your body. Excessive stress is linked to more fat in your abdominal area. Not only do we become self-conscious of a larger mid-section but it’s actually linked to greater health risks than fat stored in other parts of the body.
Stress and weight gain are connected in more ways, too. Let’s take a look…
- Emotional Eating: We discussed how increased cortisol levels can make you create unhealthy food, but did you know all that nervous energy can cause you to eat more unhealthy foods than you would when not under stress? I know my issue was I used to find myself in the kitchen snacking on food when I was not even hungry. Sometimes, I caught myself and wondered, “why am I eating this? I’m not even hungry.” — Have you been there, too?
- Fast Food: Now this is one that I personally stay away from when it comes to what I put in my body. I could go on for hours on this topic and why I believe the fast food industry is mainly responsible for the obesity epidemic that is sweeping our nation but we aren’t going to get in to all those details. The bottom line is that people are too stressed with their daily lives to have to think about what they are going to feed themselves and their families, come meal time. So, what used to be healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners made at home are now being replaced by faster, more convenient, but extremely unhealthy drive-thru meals. This one gets a big sad face from me.
- No Time to Exercise: Many people set their new years resolutions or goals to keep up with their gym membership and workouts. However, the reason it is one of the top new years resolutions set every year is the simple fact that lives get busy and exercise gets dropped to the bottom of the priority list, when it should remain at the top. Sedentary lifestyles have become more of a norm than an anomoly as a result of the time spent sitting in a desk chair at work, in the car in traffic, in front of the TV, etc. Bottom line is a lack of exercise in a stressful environment, will lead to weight gain.
Now that we have covered some of the effects of chronic stress and cortisol on weight gain, just know there are ways you can control your stress and weight. We will go further into this as Part II of our series on Stress & Weight Gain. Be on the lookout for it this Thursday