3 Unexpected Ways Stress Affects Weight Gain (and How You're at Risk)

Gunnar December 12, 2012 No Comments

Stress and weight gain--how are they related?Holidays got you stressed out? Many people are already feeling the weight of the season on their shoulders, and January is still weeks away! In addition to feeling tired and irritable due to stress, your stress can actually cause you to gain weight. That’s right–did you know your stress may be directly connected to the traditional holiday weight gain?

More and more, research is showing how stress and weight gain are closely related. Along with the problems associated with being overweight, stress has other negative effects on your health. Researchers have shown 60% to 90% of all illnesses and health problems are either caused by stress or made worse by stress. Stress can even kill. This can lead to a serious decline in your quality of life (and your life expectancy). The good news is stress can be managed.

Stress causes weight gain by releasing hormones into your body. When we are faced with stressful situations, our body triggers the “fight or flight” mechanism and releases cortisol. The short term effects of this trigger lead to increased thinking, faster heart rate, and more–all intended to help out in a dangerous situation. But when you’re stressed for an extended period of time, your body sort of “overloads” on this hormone, causing the negative effects of stress.

The worst part is we’re all vulnerable. Without proper stress management, anyone can end up getting stressed out and harming their health. Work, family, and even your attitude can keep you tangled up and unhappy.

The first step to dealing with stress is to understand it. Here are 3 unexpected ways stress affects weight gain.

Decreased Metabolism

Did you know stress and decreased metabolism are connected? When you are in times of great stress, your metabolism slows down. This makes sense; your body reacts to stress by acting as if food won’t be readily available in the future, so it slows down metabolism and fat burning so as to keep fat reserves high. Ever notice how yoga instructors are so skinny? Basically, when you feel stress, you keep the fat you have.

More Fat Storage

When you stress out, you’ll not only keep the fat you have, you’ll also put on more fat, too. This is due to the same reason that causes you to up on weight in the first place during stressful times. Your body assumes it stress means a lack of food, so it stores fat accordingly.

Unhealthy Cravings

Stress leads to more than just physical effects on your body. Unhealthy cravings are more psychological than physical. While this may seem counter-intuitive (why would how I feel make me physically crave food?), it actually makes sense when you understand how the brain works. Whenever we do something pleasurable, such as eating, our brain keeps note of those good feelings and file it away for later. When we feel bad or under stress, our brain remembers what made us feel good in the past and sends signals to our body to crave that thing. This is why so many people become emotional eaters when they have problems. This leads to relapses into alcoholism, addictions, and food cravings. If you’re stressed all the time and eat unhealthy foods as a result of the cravings, you’ll gain weight.

There’s a ton of other ways stress leads to weight gain, such as difficulty sleeping, but for the sake of this post, all you need to know is this: stress is the enemy of good health.

Tips to Decrease Stress

If you’re feeling stressed and packing on the pounds as a result, there are several things you can try to help you relax. Stopping the cortisol production is essential to ensuring lasting health and a longer life. Here are some techniques that many use to manage their own stress:

  • Meditate. Take a few minutes every day just to sit and clear your mind. If you don’t know how to meditate, there are several sites that can teach you how. You can also download smartphone apps to guide you through the process.
  • Exercise. Daily exercise is not only part of a healthy lifestyle; it’s a great way to decrease stress. Exercising releases endorphins–chemicals in your brain that make you feel good–and your body simply works better when it gets regular exercise.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eating junk makes you feel bloated, lethargic, and all around awful. Switch out the junk for healthier alternatives and you’ll feel more relaxed.
  • Make time for yourself. One of the big causes of stress is people who get too caught up in the business of life to unwind at the end of the day. Even just a few minutes sitting or relaxing can make a huge difference in your perspective and ability to deal with your day.
  • Help others. Serving other people is a commonly prescribed way to fight depression, and it works with stress, too.
  • Develop a routine. A routine can prevent the unexpected stress-inducing events in your life.
  • Keep a journal or diary. Writing down your feelings, thoughts, and experiences is a good way to make sense of them at the end of a day and de-stress.

There are many other ways to deal with stress, and with experimentation, you’ll find what works for you. Begin trying to combat stress today with these techniques and see what effect they have on your weight.


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