There are several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. One has to do with cortisol, a stress hormone. When we’re under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies, leading to the release of various hormones. Whether we’re stressed because of holiday demands or we’re really in danger, our bodies respond like we’re about to be harmed and need to fight for our lives (or run like heck).
To answer this need, we experience a burst of energy, shifts in metabolism and blood flow, and other changes. If you remain in this state for a prolonged amount of time due to chronic stress, your health becomes at risk. Aside from a host of other dangers, chronic stress can also cause weight gain, which can sometimes create even more stress.
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 – People experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more fatty, salty, and sugary foods. This includes sweets, processed food, and other things that aren’t as good for you.
- Blood Sugar – Prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings, fatigue, and conditions like hyperglycemia. Too much stress has even been linked to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health concerns that can lead to greater health problems, like heart attacks and diabetes.
- Fat Storage – Higher levels of stress are linked to greater levels of abdominal fat. Abdominal fat is linked with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.
Stress and weight gain are connected in other ways, too. These are the top stress-weight connections:
- Emotional Eating – Increased levels of cortisol can give you excess nervous energy and can often cause you to eat more than you normally would.
- Fast Food – Experts believe that one of the big reasons we’re seeing more obesity in our society these days is that people are too stressed and busy to make healthy dinners at home, often opting to get fast food a the nearest drive-thru instead.
- Too Busy to Exercise – Exercise may be one of the last things on your to-do list. Unfortunately, from sitting in traffic, clocking hours at our desks, and plopping in front of the TV in exhaustion at the end of the day, exercise often goes by the wayside.
This busy holiday season, try to eliminate stress where and when you can. It should be a time of loved ones and celebration; it doesn’t have to be a time of anxiety or overeating. Happy Holidays from Dr. Heidi Ryan!