Stress and Weight Gain: How Stress Can Affect Your Weight
There are a number of ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. One has to do with cortisol, a stress hormone. When we’re under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies, leading to the release of various hormones.
Whether we’re stressed because of the constant, crazy demands at work or we’re really in danger, our bodies respond like we’re about to be harmed and need to fight for our lives (or run like heck). To answer this need, we experience a burst of energy, shifts in metabolism and blood flow, and other physiological changes.
If you remain in this state for a prolonged amount of time due to chronic stress, your health becomes at risk. Aside from a myriad of other dangers, chronic stress can also cause weight gain.
Chronic stress and cortisol can contribute to weight gain in the following ways:
Metabolism – Do you feel like you’re prone to putting on more weight when you’re stressed, even if you’re eating the same amount of food as you always have? Too much cortisol can slow down your metabolism, causing more weight gain than you would normally experience. This also makes dieting more difficult.
Cravings – OK, you’re stressed. Do you reach for a nice salad or a carton of Häagen Daz? I’ll bet on the latter. People experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more fatty, salty and sugary foods. This includes sweets, junk food, processed food and other things that aren’t that good for you. These foods are typically less healthy and lead to increased weight gain.
Blood Sugar – Prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings, fatigue, and conditions like hyperglycemia. Too much stress has even been linked to metabolic syndrome, and a number of health concerns that can lead to greater problems, like heart attacks and diabetes.
Fat Storage – Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress are linked to greater levels of abdominal fat. Unfortunately, abdominal fat is not only aesthetically undesirable; it’s linked with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.
Stress and weight gain are connected in other ways:
Emotional Eating – Increased levels of cortisol can not only make you crave unhealthy food, but excess nervous energy can often cause you to eat more than you normally would. How many times have you found yourself searching the kitchen for a snack, or absently munching on junk food when you’re stressed, but not really hungry?
Fast Food – Experts believe that one of the main reasons we’re seeing more obesity in our society these days is that people are too stressed and busy to make healthy dinners at home, often opting to get fast food a the nearest drive-thru instead.
Too Busy to Exercise – With all the demands on your schedule, exercise may be one of the last things on your to-do list. If so, you’re not alone. North Americans live a more sedentary lifestyle than we have in past generations, yet our minds seem to be racing from everything we have to do. Unfortunately, from sitting in traffic, clocking hours at our desks, and plopping in front of the TV in exhaustion at the end of the day, exercise often goes by the wayside.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reverse the pattern of weight gain and actually reduce your stress level and waistline at the same time.