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Can Stress Really Cause Weight Gain?

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Chronic stress increases cortisol levels which in turn slows down metabolism and increases cravings for salty, sweet and high-fat foods. Cortisol can collect fat from the blood and other storage places in the body and move it to the belly. This fat is more dangerous than fat stored in other areas of the body. Cortisol can also increase the size of individual fat cells.

Have you ever noticed how stress makes you hungry? Stress may contribute to changes in dietary behaviors that lead to weight gain. Stress has become a way of life in the 21st century where healthy eating habits are getting more difficult to maintain for people under stress.

Also for some, the effects of stress go beyond feelings of anxiety and discomfort. For these people, stress can mean uncontrolled eating and adding weight gain to their list of worries. Weight gain when under stress may also be due to the body’s system of hormonal checks and balances, which can actually promote weight gain when you’re stressed out, according to some researchers.

Psycho-social stress has been implicated as a risk factor for obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other health risks.

How Does Stress Work?

Stress response is triggered by the sympathetic nervous system. Once the nervous system perceives an increase in demand or threat, it triggers a general sympathetic activation as well as adrenal gland activation.

This gland – situated on top of the kidneys – produces mainly adrenalin as a stress response to assist in the fight or flight response. The adrenal glands releases a hormone called cortisol.

Cortisol Or Stress Hormones

When stress is chronic, it leads to high levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. Cortisol is a critical hormone with many actions in the body. The levels of cortisol in the bloodstream vary depending upon the time of day (normally, cortisol levels are highest in the early morning and lowest around midnight).

Chronic stress and cortisol can contribute to weight gain in the following ways:

Metabolism

Too much cortisol can slow your metabolism, causing more weight gain than you would normally experience. This also makes dieting more difficult.

Cravings

Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and high-fat foods. Foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to turn to food for emotional relief.

Fat Storage

Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Additionally:

  • Higher levels of stress are linked to greater levels of abdominal fat.
  • In times of stress, cortisol can collect fat from the blood and other storage places in the body and move it to the belly.
  • Cortisol can also increase the size of individual fat cells.
  • Abdominal fat is linked with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.

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, which is the main reason for weight gain.12

Ayurvedic Solutions For Stress-Eating

Ayurveda recommends eating your main meal around noon when the sun is directly overhead. This makes digestion and assimilation of nourishing food easier. In addition:

  • Eat only when really hungry.
  • Eat sitting down rather than standing up.
  • Eat in a quiet peaceful environment – or at least eat quietly.
  • Eat about the same time every day.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
  • Avoid eating when rushed, angry or upset.
  • Eat with a sense of gratitude and celebration of life’s many blessings.
  • Sit for at least five to ten minutes after completing the meal before resuming your activities.

Suggestions To Counter Stress

Meditation

Studies show that meditation reduces stress. Meditation may also help people become more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to control the impulse to eat mindlessly – and will learn to identify these feelings, accept the unpleasant ones and fight the automatic urge to reach for a snack.

Exercise

Intense exercises increase cortisol levels temporarily, but low-intensity exercise seems to reduce them. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.

Diet

Some foods are just naturally more supportive of good health. A healthy diet for stress relief and carefully chosen stress relief foods can help us feel better.

Social Support

Friends, family, and other sources of social support seem to have a positive effect on stress that people experience.3

References   [ + ]

1.Torres, Susan J., and Caryl A. Nowson. “Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity.” Nutrition 23.11 (2007): 887-894.
2.Emotional Eating, HelpGuide.Org
3.Why Stress Causes People To Overeat, Harvard Health Publications
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.