With so many people suffering from the effects of chronic stress these days, learning that stress may be causing you to gain weight is the last thing you need to hear! But don’t panic. While it’s true that stress does cause many people to gain weight, the reasons behind it are a mix of physiological and psychological factors. Plus, there are ways to effectively combat this unwanted response to stress.
Ok so stress can cause weight gain. But why? What is the mechanism behind this
To understand the human stress response, we need to go back in time, way before we were bothered with such everyday stressors as work deadlines, financial problems, or computer failures. Think running away from a big predator like a tiger.
Lions And Tigers And Bear, Oh My!
Eons ago, when you were faced with a threat, your body had to prepare for one of two reactions: to either turn and fight the threat or turn away and run like heck! Either way, your body prepared you to do this by releasing a flood of stress hormones, such as cortisol, along with epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. After the threat was over, the stress hormones returned to normal.
But in our modern society, stressors such as financial pressures, caring for aging parents or worry over a demanding boss, do not just instantly go away. These types of stressors are chronic in nature and as a result, cortisol can remain permanently elevated, causing your body to behave as if it’s constantly under threat.
Although cortisol has many effects on the body, some of its primary functions are to promote fast energy through the metabolism of fat and carbohydrates, stimulate the release of insulin and maintain blood sugar levels. The end result is an increase in appetite, which explains why you often feel all you want to do is eat when you are under stress.
Also, when you are under stress, you are very apt to turn to “emotional eating” to soothe your pain and this often leads to poor food choices such as refined and highly processed foods known to contribute to weight gain.
Your Belly Fat Is Trying To Kill You!
And there is more bad news. Not only does cortisol stimulate an increase in appetite, which in turn is likely to promote weight gain, the fat you do put on in response to stress is more likely to accumulate around your abdominal area. Belly fat is a very “bad actor” when it comes to your health, since its accumulation is very strongly associated with the development of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attacks.
So what is to be done? The key here is to control chronic stress and put the brakes on those constantly elevated cortisol levels.
Chances are, you are not going to be instantly able to relieve the cause of the chronic stress, such as eldercare responsibilities or financial pressure, but you can control your response to it and that makes all the difference.
Two Powerful Fixes
Two of the easiest, but most powerful ways to get your stress and cortisol levels under control are:
One - Exercise has a powerful preventative effect across such a wide range of disease states, is a very effective stress buffer and can lower your cortisol levels. And this can be simple, such as getting outside for a 20 to 30 minute walk daily can work wonders.
Two - Meditation - This does not have to be rocket science either. Simply sitting in a quiet spot, closing your eyes and focusing your attention on your breathing, in and out for just five minutes can make a huge difference. When your thoughts intrude (and they will!) simply just observe them, let them go and come back to the focus on your breathing.