Have you found that despite everything you’re doing to improve your nutrition and fitness you’re still not reaching your goals? Stress and weight gain are inextricably linked and could be the underlying reason why. Whether the stressor is real or an imagined threat, our bodies will experience the same physical response. Your heart will start racing whether a lion is chasing you or you’re about to miss your flight.
Stress can be triggered when we’ve set expectations that are too high to meet comfortably. Imagine you’re a mom trying to get the kids to soccer practice and you’re running late; you check your daily to-dos and realize you don’t even have time to start the first one. Or, you’ve got a presentation in an hour that you haven’t started preparing for. Whatever the stressor, it’s real to you and your body reacts in turn.
Stress and weight gain
Once the real/perceived threat has subsided, the adrenaline high wears off and cortisol kicks into top gear to replenish your energy supply as fast as possible. Hello, sugar cravings! Your body is designed to store energy as a protective mechanism, particularly after stressful situations — mainly in the form of visceral fat on and around the belly. The downside is that this belly fat is unhealthy and difficult to get rid of. In addition to weight loss struggles, cortisol serves up a double whammy by slowing down the metabolism.
It’s a case of the what came first, the chicken or the egg, research shows a correlation between weight and cortisol levels but is unclear which one is the cause and which one is the result. It’s most likely a combination of the two. A recent study shows that elevated cortisol levels overtime results in weight gain and obesity, meaning you’ll gain weight due to stress and have a harder time losing it.
Why Weight Change Happens
Stressful experiences may lead to a change in habits. Someone going through a tough time may lose their appetite and skip meals.
Chronic stress may lead to an increase in appetite—and an increase in cravings for unhealthy food. Slowly, over the course of several months or even a year, the weight gain may accumulate.
Weight change may also result due to hormonal changes triggered by stress. The body’s response to stress has been linked to changes in metabolism, insulin, and fat storage.
The Link Between Stress and Cortisol
Stress triggers a fight or flight response in your body. This response releases hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol.Adrenal prepares your body to take action and minimizes your desire to eat.
Once the adrenaline effects wear off, cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, hangs around. Cortisol temporarily suppresses functions that are non-essential, such as your digestive, immune, and reproductive responses.
When you have more cortisol in your system, you may crave less healthy food options like snacks containing high sugar and fat content.
Continuous stress can lead to weight gain
The findings, says Teruel, “[explain] why treatments with glucocorticoid drugs, which are often essential for people with rheumatoid arthritis and asthma to even function, are so linked with obesity, and [suggest] ways in which such treatments can be given safely without the common side effects of weight gain and bone loss.”
Additionally, the senior investigator notes how the research illuminates the process of stress-induced weight gain in people, as well as offering clues for how to control it.”Yes, the timing of your stress does matter,” she says.
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