You’re having problems at work or at home. You’re depressed, and it’s starting to affect you physically. You’ve noticed a hump around your midsection that wasn’t there before. And you’ll start wondering, “Where are these extra pounds coming from?” One of the main culprit for your sudden weight gain is Stress. While some say that stress can make you lose some appetite, the long-term “chronic” stress effect is boosting your hunger. This is what they call, stress eating. The hormones that triggers it and the effects of high-fat sugary “comfort foods” push people toward overeating. According to an American Psychological Association survey, there are about one-fourth of Americans who rate their stress levels as 8 or more on a 10-point scale.
I’ll explain below the reasons as to why it makes us fat and what to do about it.
As I mentioned earlier, it can shut down appetite in short term-basis. A structure in the brain called hypothalamus produces the corticotropin-releasing hormone, which destroys appetite. The brain also sends messages to the adrenal glands atop the kidneys to pump out the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). Epinephrine helps trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response, a hyped-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold. This is called the Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis as the central stress response system.
But if stress persists, the adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol. Cortisol increases appetite and also increases motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful period is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn’t go away – or if the person gets stuck on the “stress stage” – cortisol may stay elevated.
Cortisol and Comfort Foods
If the levels of the “stressor hormone” or cortisol elevates, appetite also elevates, thus it results into stress-eating. This is because increased levels of the hormone also result in higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary fatty foods. Instead of craving salad or banana, you’re more likely interested into chocolates or pasta. This is the reason why they are called “comfort foods”.
An assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard, Jason Perry Block, MD, says that eating can be a source of relief and can lower stress. He said that this is because the body releases chemicals in response to the food that might have a direct calming effect.
On the other hand, Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, said that “More stress is equal to more cortisol and also equal to the higher appetite for junk food which results into more belly fat.”
Long Term Effects of Weight Gain
Carrying around extra pounds can lead to other, more serious health problems like High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Stroke, etc. If you think your weight has gone up due to stress, tackle some good habits that can aid you to get back your old self. Eat healthy, get active, and do things that make you relaxed and happy.
What to do to Ease Stress?
Exercise, but don’t Overtrain – High-intensity workouts should be limited to two or three times a week. Try an exercise where there is a balance training of your mind and body.
Meditate – Try mindful breathing exercises like yoga, or flow state meditation. These can help clear your mind and curb those comfort-food impulses.
Get Adequate Rest – The main formula for an effective training is work + sleep so don’t ever skip plenty of sleep.
We all struggle stress, it’s inevitable. But it’s up to you on how to handle your tension as best as you can. Resisting the urge to overeat and diverting your attention to something else is a great start. Do you want to know if you are overstressed? Take this Stress Test and Find Out if your Body is healthy enough or not.