Stress and weight gain are directly related, though many of us don’t realize how strong that link truly is. In fact, it’s one of the largest contributors to dieting struggles. The reason is that it is inextricably connected through various processes within the body.
Stress has become a fundamental part of our everyday lives. We are constantly struggling to juggle the trials and tribulations associated with our health, career, debt, school, family and all of the other factors that life throws our way on a daily basis. When stress and weight gain occur simultaneously, it can make the situation all the harder.
Research Shows Stress and Weight Gain Go Hand in Hand
Studies have even shown that stress can contribute to weight gain which can be added to the list of worries. That’s just the sort of struggle we don’t need when we’re already feeling up tight from other challenges in our lives.
Weight gain resulting from stress is not directly from nervous tension itself, but rather a combination of hormonal and psychological dynamics. In fact, stress initiates a loss of appetite, which should encourage weight loss; weight gain is actually a result of a learned behavior such as excess eating to fulfill a psychological need to feel comfort.
Why is it So Easy to Gain Weight When We’re Stressed?
When we feel stressed or are affected by a traumatic event our body responds by releases the hormones adrenaline, cortisol and corticotropin (CRH). Adrenalin and CRH are responsible for supplying our body with the energy to physically fight or flee from the stressful situation or threat. These two hormones are short lived based on the amount of stored energy in your body and cause a loss in appetite.
Cortisol, which is longer lasting than adrenaline and CRH, is then responsible for replenishing our body when the stressful event is over and, in some cases, may be present at all times in people who experience chronic stress. Cortisol stimulates the production of energy in fat and carbohydrate metabolism to produce energy quickly; it is also responsible for secreting insulin and maintaining blood sugar which results in increased appetite. The neuroendocrine system is where the miscommunication occurs.
The hormonal balancing act of releasing and replenishing energy by the neuroendocrine system is becoming problematic due to the fact that most modern stressors do not require physical activity, fat isn’t being used as energy and cortisol levels are still being elevated.
Our Response to Stress
Oftentimes, people respond mentally to stress by sitting and thinking about frustrations without expending any calories at all. Our neuroendocrine system releases cortisol regardless of whether or not we are physically fighting or fleeing.
Even worse, with the release of cortisol our bodies crave sugar and carbohydrates because it is the fuel our muscles need to be replenished. This is how stress can lead to weight gain as our bodies store this excess fat as visceral fat around our mid-abdominal section. This phenomenon doesn’t occur every time we feel the slightest amount of stress, but it becomes more of a learned behavior.
After a traumatic event occurs and adrenaline, CRH and cortisol are released; we feel hungry as a response and feel comforted when we eat. It isn’t long before we psychologically begin to eat in when we feel stress as a need to feel comfort even without or before cortisol levels are elevated.
What to Do to Beat the Stress and Weight Gain Connection?
There is no simple pill or 1-step cure to beating the link between stress and weight gain. That said, if you can take some added steps to control your stress levels, you can make a difference to your weight control, too.
Easier said than done, right? Yes, being able to master your tension levels is certainly a tall order. However, there are many things that you can do to make enough of a difference that you’ll be able to change your hormonal balance. Certainly, these won’t eliminate all stress from your life. Tension is going to happen no matter what. However, you can shift it enough that your weight management won’t be a victim of your hectic lifestyle.
Consider the following to help ease your stress and your weight gain at the same time:
- Prioritize sleep. Set a bedtime and waking time for every night and morning (even on weekends) and stick to it. Eventually, your body’s clock will set to it. Yes, it will! Rest helps you to better cope with stress and balances hormones that affect weight gain.
- Do yoga. Whether it’s better for you to do it in the morning or at night – or both – this practice benefits both stress and weight gain regulation. Even ten minutes can make a difference.
- Like yoga, there are measurable benefits that come from this practice. Start with 3 minutes per day and see where it takes you. There are great apps to help guide you along the way.
- Take time for yourself every day. Whether it’s to meditate, read a book or do something else, you need time just for you. Not time to help your kids or to be there for your husband. Your time. Just you. Ten minutes to start can help you build the habit but make your goal a minimum of 30 minutes per day for dedicated self-care.
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