Stress weight gain: Is stress making you fat?

Is stress weight gain affecting you? Can stress make you fat? 

Stress is reaching epidemic proportions and adding to the stressful news comes the finding that stress can make you fat.

Do you reach for a cream bun when stressed?

Do you struggle to exercise when stressed?

Did you know that the stress hormone cortisol affects women and men's waistlines differently?

These are all ways that stress and weight gain are connected. 

Stress weight gain: Reaching for that cream bun

Stress can equate to "snack time". 

I know because when my life is falling apart it is not unusual for me to reach for a cream bun or a chocolate bar.

And it is not just the life changing events, like job loss, losing a loved one or divorce, that can trigger stress eating! Minor everyday hassles can mean that we reach for high-fat and sugary foods.

At the same time, stress eating can be relaxing.

When your 'stress' snack reaches your stomach your body sends a message back to the hypothalamus to decrease the intensity of neural stimulation throughout the body. 

The hypothalamus just so happens to also register emotional feelings and eating sends a calming signal back to the hypothalamus.

If this sounds familiar, a way to combat stress weight gain If you feel that you are stress eating and this stress weight gain or emotional eating is something that you want to work on, then try journalling.

When journalling ask yourself:

  • what foods are you gravitating to when stressed (keep an eye on comfort foods and the quantities eaten).
  • do you have control over them or do these stress eating habits have control of you?

While it may not be a problem to reach for these foods and seek simple pleasure from them, a problem can arise when this occasional pleasure becomes a habit.

Another stress weight gain connection: Cortisol

Chronic stress releases cortisol into the body. This cortisol slows the metabolism....so even if you are eating the same amount of food as before you may put on weight.

Cortisol has been found to be associated with increased abdominal fat. Unfortunately abdominal fat can be unpleasing to the eye and is associated with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body. 

Are women and men's waistlines affected differently?

According to ground-breaking Harvard research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology on July 15 , 2009, men and women who are already overweight are more likely gain weight from stress.

Interestingly though, men and women respond differently to different causes of stress.

Women's waistlines tend to be affected by

  • family stress
  • feeling limited by life's circumstances, 
  • difficult relationships, and 
  • work stress.

Men's waistlines tended to be influenced by work stress only - with a lack of skill discretion at work and a lack of decision authority affecting men's weight gain. 

These results point to the idea that stress management can be an important part of weight control.

What can you do to break the stress and weight gain cycle?

Stress management has a role in reducing the impact of stress weight gain. Here are some ways to break the cycle.

Exercise more

If you are busy, often exercise can be squeezed out of your day. It is important that you make time for exercise. This is easier said than done!

Exercise does a number of things:

  • exercise relaxes the muscles 
  • exercise uses-up the accumulated stress products, 
  • the benefits of exercise extend well beyond exercise and stress. Exercise reduces obesity, improves body image and increases overall life longevity. 

This makes exercise a great strategy to beat stress weight gain. 

Learn the best ways to relax for you

Chronic stress releases cortisol which is implicated in stress weight gain. 

Relaxation can short circuit the stress response by activating the relaxation response - this is the opposite of the stress response. So relaxation breaks the cycle of stress-induced cortisol and adrenaline.

Have healthy munching habits

When stressed it is not difficult to polish off a cream bun or to reach for high-fat sugary foods. 

If it seems to hard to control your cravings then it is better to reach for something healthy instead. Plan ahead and pack your lunch with healthy alternatives. 

I find carrot sticks and drinking plenty of water helpful for me. 

Reaching for the right food does two things:

  1. breaks the emotional eating cycle
  2. increases your ability to cope with stress through the the right nutrition

Turn off the TV

 In short, as a population, we watch too much TV. 

TV can be one of the easiest comforts to go to when exhausted or tired. But I find that I can look up a few hours later and realize that I have not got much from the experience.

Turn off the TV and put on some soothing music. Soothing music and stress reduction can go hand in hand. 

Other ways that stress affects health

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