Why Does Stress Make You Fat?
Have you ever noticed that when you’re stressed, your appetite changes? Or you start putting on weight, even when your diet or exercise regime hasn’t changed?
Our bodies react to stress in many different ways, but it’s all too common for difficult times to result in weight fluctuations. First we’ll learn a little bit about why this happens, then some great strategies to control stress weight and keep it off!
How Stress Directly Affects Our Food Intake
Our stress response directly affects our food intake. Anytime we are stressed, our body initiates our fight-or-flight response. When stress occurs there are a group of hormones that are released called glucocorticoids. Glucocorticoids remain in the blood for a significant amount of time after the stressor is removed. One of the many jobs of the glucocorticoids is to replenish energy supplies lost during the fight-or-flight response.
This is even true if the stressor requires little energy expenditure. Our body does not know the difference between thinking of money problems and fighting for our lives. The glucocorticoids help us replenish energy stores by increasing sugar cravings and even increasing our abdominal fat stores. This is one mechanism in which stress has been shown to increase abdominal fat and lead to metabolic dysfunction.
How We Store Energy in Case of Danger
Why would our body want to increase sugar cravings and fat storage after a stressful event? This is because the body is an amazingly adaptive machine. Fighting for our lives and fleeing from danger both require enormous amounts of energy. Our body is making sure that when we encounter any life-threatening event in the future we will have enough energy to survive it.
This ability was advantageous for our ancestors to evade predators, but it is not so advantageous to us today. Today we may have a stressful day of work, which requires us to sit at a desk and expend little energy, and still experience these strong cravings and increased fat storage.
To make matters even worse, sugar may play a major role in down regulating the HPA activity occurring during stress. Foods high in sugar, salt, and fat elicit a strong response from our opioids. Our endorphins are an example of an opioid. Opioid release seems to be a strong defense mechanism to an overactive HPA axis.3 Some researchers believe that reaching for that sweet, salty, or savory snack may actually be a defense mechanism to the high levels of stress that we are under.
– via Breaking Muscle
Get Stress Weight Under Control
It’s time to stop letting stress control your life and take back the reins on your weight loss.
Next time you get worried that the stress of your life is sabotaging your weight, consider trying these tips.
1. Drop and do 10.
That’s right, power out some push-ups. “Moving your muscles is an effective, instant stress reliever. It actually fools your body into thinking you’re escaping the source of your stress,” says Talbott. “Exercise makes your blood circulate more quickly, transporting the cortisol to your kidneys and flushing it out of your system.” But if push-ups aren’t practical, just flexing your hands or calf muscles will help move cortisol along, he says. Even taking a stroll on your lunch break is beneficial. In one study, Talbott found that 18 minutes of walking 3 times per week can quickly lower the hormone’s levels by 15%.
2. Go slowly at meals.
Under stress, we tend to scarf down even healthy food. In fact, research has linked this behavior to bigger portions and more belly fat. But Epel hypothesizes that slowing down, savoring each bite, and paying attention to feelings of fullness may lower cortisol levels along with decreasing the amount of food you eat, thereby shifting the distribution of fat away from the belly.
3. Stop strict dieting.
It’s ironic, but research shows that constant dieting can make cortisol levels rise as much as 18%. In addition, when your cortisol levels spike, your blood sugar goes haywire, first rising, then plummeting. This makes you cranky and (you guessed it) ravenous. When your brain is deprived of sugar—its main fuel—self-control takes a nosedive, and your willpower doesn’t stand a chance.
4. Give in to cravings‚ a little.
When stress drives you toward something sweet or salty, it’s okay to yield a little. “It’s much better to indulge in a small way and cut off your cortisol response before it gets out of control,” says Epel. “Have a piece of chocolate. You will feel better. Just stop at one.” If you have trouble restraining yourself, take precautions so you won’t binge. Buy a single cookie when you’re out instead of keeping a box at home; or keep them in the freezer so you have to wait for one to defrost.
– via Prevention
Have you ever noticed stress affecting your weight?