Stress and weight gain are connected in several different ways. For one thing, stress can cause us to be too busy to exercise. With so many demands on our time due to work, family, and social obligations it is no wonder that so many of us find ourselves putting exercise near the bottom of a long list of ‘things to do’. Unfortunately, it is something that many of us feel is expendable, and a lack of regular exercise over an extended period of time is detrimental to our health in more ways than one. Weight gain is usually the first end result of inactivity that we notice.
Other Ways that Stress Affects Weight
Not only do our busy schedules keep us from exercising as much as we should, they also keep us from eating healthy meals. Researchers have found that Americans’ dependence on quick fast food meals have a direct impact on the obesity trend in the United States. There are very few fast food options that are nutritious, and for the most part people tend to make food selections that are full of fat and calories, resulting in significant weight gain over time.
Emotional eating is another way that stress impacts our weight. For many people, feeling stressed causes them to eat too much and to eat even when they aren’t hungry. Emotional eating is a dangerous habit to get into because it tends to lead to rapid weight gain for most of us.
Cortisol, Stress, and Weight Gain
One of the single biggest factors connecting stress to weight gain is the body’s production of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol is released whenever we feel stressed because it triggers our fight or flight response. Initially, the release of this hormone provides us with a burst of quick energy, but if we remain in a stressed out state for an extended period of time, the constant presence of this hormone in our bodies begins to present a significant health risk to us.
Cortisol directly impacts our weight in four primary ways:
- Blood sugar
- Fat storage
When we experience bouts of prolonged stress, our blood sugar levels tend to be altered significantly. Changes in our blood sugar levels cause fatigue, mood swings, and hyperglycemia. In extreme cases, a condition known as metabolic syndrome can develop, potentially leading to diabetes or a heart problems.
Also, when we are under stress, our bodies tend to crave high fat, salty, and sugary foods. This explains why most of us tend to reach for a brownie or a box of cookies instead of a healthy salad or some hummus. If you eat enough of these types of foods, particularly if you are not getting enough exercise, weight gain is bound to be the end result over time.
Studies have shown that when our bodies are experiencing higher levels of stress, we tend to store more abdominal fat. Having too much abdominal fat can lead to a host of health problems in addition to being physically unappealing.
Cortisol affects our metabolism because having too much of this hormone in our bodies causes our metabolism to slow down. If this happens, you may find yourself gaining weight even if you are consuming the same amounts of food.
Fortunately, there are some things we can do in an effort to combat the negative physical effects of stress. Practicing relaxation techniques, keeping healthy snacks on hand, and making physical activity a priority can all help you to keep your stress levels in check and keep your weight down.
By Marc Courtiol