For most people today, increased stress levels are a regular part of life. Our schedules are full, our lives are complicated and the demands on our time just keep increasing. There’s plenty of stress to go around for everyone! But, is that stress making us fat?
The answer to that question really depends on how you are handling (or not handling) the stress you face each day. Without getting too technical, when we feel stress, our bodies release hormones to help us deal with it. Among those hormones are adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are a part of the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress and danger, whether it is physical or emotional.
Fight or Flight and Stress Levels
In a dangerous situation when we’re actually fighting or fleeing, adrenaline and cortisol act together to help break down fat and give us a needed burst of energy. Then, after the danger subsides, adrenaline dissipates, but cortisol remains to help the body return to normal. At this point, cortisol takes on a different function and increases appetite to replace the carbohydrates that were previously burned for energy.
Because the body can’t differentiate between physical stress and emotional stress, its response is the same. Continued periods of increased stress levels cause levels of cortisol to remain higher. In turn, this can cause us to want to eat more, especially carbohydrates.
Increased stress levels can also affect us in other ways:
• The extra anxiety caused by increased levels of stress can cause us to eat more than we normally would.
• Increased stress levels may cause us to engage in emotional eating where we’re eating more for pleasure than to satisfy hunger.
• Excessive stress can create cravings for more fatty and sugary foods.
• Increased stress levels may also slow our metabolisms creating a situation where, although we aren’t eating more than normal, we’re gaining more because our bodies are burning less fat.
• When we become too stressed and busy, we are less likely to take the time to prepare healthy meals and resort to fast food and other options that cause us to gain .
• A stressful life also makes us less likely to take the time to exercise. Less exercise means fewer calories burned which contributes to loss. This is unfortunate because one of the many benefits of exercises is that it helps reduce the effects of stress.
Increased stress levels and Weight Gain
Increased levels of stress can definitely lead to gain. But, before we blame cortisol and run off to eat a cupcake, it’s important to realize there are things we can do to relieve stress. Discipline yourself to spend some time exercising, even if only for a few minutes.
You can also practice relaxation techniques, take time to do something you enjoy, get a massage or take a long bath. By taking time to reduce our increased stress levels, we can also help improve our efforts to lose weight.