Ronit Mor, ND
Stress negatively impacts our bodies and can be blamed for spiking the blood pressure, weakening the immune system, and increasing the risk for heart disease and stroke. But did you know that stress can also be the culprit for unwanted weight gain?
According to a Gallup poll, 8 out of 10 Americans are afflicted by stress, and similarly, 7 out of 10 Americans are overweight. This is more than a coincidence. There’s a direct correlation between stress and obesity.
When we encounter a perceived threat, the stress response system within our body is triggered, surging us with adrenaline, preparing us for fight or flight. Cortisol—the stress hormone—is released within the body, and it’s responsible influencing, regulating, and replenishing our system in response to stress. This is essential for the maintenance of homeostasis, but when stress is chronic, cortisol is continuously secreted, and that brings disturbance in our lives.
Stress makes us hungry!
Have you ever heard of the term “stress-eating?” When we experience excessive stress, our cortisol levels are heightened, which impacts our appetite. An increase in cortisol levels can also lead to an increase in our food consumption. Overindulging certainly contributes to weight gain. Not only does stress increase our hunger, but it also affects our food preference.
What are stress-induced cravings?
When our cortisol levels surge, so does our desire for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods. We subject ourselves to a poor diet because these foods stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that relieve tension. Satisfying a craving may appease you momentarily, but in the long-run it’ll contribute to excess, unwanted weight. Stress can be blamed for mindless eating. As stressful thoughts churn in our head, we’re not consciously portioning our intake of food—causing us to eat more than we should. Stress causes nervous energy which can promote unhealthy cravings with uncontrolled portions. Emotional eating, if left unchecked, could result in serious weight gain.
Cortisol affects the metabolism and how fat is stored.
Metabolism is the process by which the body converts food into energy. When stress accelerates the release of cortisol, the metabolism decelerates, causing more weight gain. Not only does cortisol affect metabolic function which increases body fat, but it also determines how that fat is stored. Cortisol gathers fat from the bloodstream and other storage cavities in the body, and then deposits it to the abdomen, making our waistline a victim to stress.
What can I do to combat this?
Because the problem began with stress, it’s important to manage and reduce your stress levels. Meditation and mindful relaxation classes, such as yoga, is recommended. A study, published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, revealed that relaxation training could be an effective tool for reducing emotional eating episodes which in turn, reduces weight. Exercise is a natural stress-reliever and helps control cortisol levels. Proper nutrition is encouraged along with the incorporation of healthy sleeping habits. Find stress-relievers unrelated to food, such as meditation or rewarding yourself with a walk at your favorite park.
Managing stress involves awareness and diligence, but the effort pales in regards to the reward—a healthier, happier you.