You may have heard that stress can affect your body in many ways, and that your waistline can become a victim in your stress battle. Sadly, this is true. There are several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. The major reason has to do with cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. When we’re under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies, leading to the release of various hormones, including cortisol, rushing through our bloodstream.
When we have more cortisol in our system, we may crave less healthy food options like salty snacks and highly processed foods that are high in sugar and fat, contributing to weight gain over time. Whether we’re stressed because of constant, crazy demands at work/personal life, or we’re really in danger, our bodies respond either way like we’re about to be harmed and need to fight for our lives (or run from the threat/danger, by not dealing). To answer this need, we experience a burst of energy, shifts in metabolism, blood flow, and other changes. These changes can affect digestion, appetite, and ultimately, weight in many ways.
If you remain in this state for a prolonged amount of time due to chronic stress, your health becomes at risk. Apart from a host of other dangers, chronic stress can also cause weight gain, which can sometimes create even more stress, often resulting in a vicious never ending cycle. Chronic stress and cortisol can contribute to weight gain in the following ways, so take notice, and try to do something about it, especially if you notice that you are following a particular diet to the T, exercising, and still not seeing any results over time. As always, if this is the case, discuss with a medical professional to rule out other culprits, like your thyroid, or something more serious.
As mentioned above, people experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more fatty, salty and sugary foods. This includes sweets, processed food and other things that aren’t as good for you. These foods are typically less healthy and lead to increased weight gain.
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, a cluster of health concerns that can lead to greater health problems, like heart attacks and diabetes.
Do you sometimes 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 your metabolism, causing more weight gain than you would normally experience. This also makes dieting more difficult.
Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress are linked to greater levels of abdominal/visceral 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, like the hips and thighs.
Stress and weight gain are connected in other ways too, from emotional eating, to reaching for fast food options instead of cooking healthy at home. Experts believe that one of the big reasons we’re seeing more obesity, or diabesity 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 at the nearest drive-thru instead. Fast food and even healthier restaurant fare can both be higher in sugar and fat. Even in the healthiest circumstances, you don’t know what you’re eating when you’re not eating at home, and you can’t control what goes into your food. Because of this and because restaurants often add less healthy ingredients like butter to enhance taste. It’s safer to eat at home most of the time if you can, not to mention more sanitary.
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. 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 this particular pattern of weight gain and actually reduce your stress level and waistline at the same time. Try them and be consistent in your approach because scientific research shows that it works. Mental health and physical health go hand in hand. If you notice pounds slowly creeping up, stress may be the sneaky culprit behind your weight gain, despite your best efforts at dieting. Do you best to be mindful of this, and do everything in your power to de-stress. Besides feeling mentally better, as an added bonus you may notice your waistline start to shrink.