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Stress can cause weight gain. There are several reasons for this:
And in this article, we'll take a look at all of the important links between stress and weight gain.
But let's start from the beginning...
Stress is your body's normal and natural response to dangerous situations.
When you're faced with some event which you perceive as threatening, your body reacts by releasing hormones like adrenaline and the “stress hormone” cortisol. This is designed to ready your body to overcome the threat to its survival.
This might involve raising your heart rate and blood pressure so that blood can reach your muscles more quickly – and increasing your reaction times.
This reaction is called the “fight or flight” or stress response.
For all its survival advantages, yes – stress can play a role in weight gain.
That hormone, cortisol, released as part of your body's stress response is partly to blame. Here's how:
There are also other reasons why stress can cause weight gain...
1) You have lower blood sugar
The changes which the stress hormone brings about in your body to help you survive include causing you to have higher insulin levels and lower blood sugar over time.
2) You want comfort food
Comfort eating isn't just a phrase. Your body releases chemicals in response to you eating food which might have an actual – and direct – calming effect.
When you are feeling stressed, going for that sugary or fatty dopamine hit is a common response.
3) Your metabolism may be slowed down
Recent research (carried out at Ohio State University in 2015) showed that, in women at least, stress may have links to a slower metabolism.
The study showed that the participants in the experiment who had experienced stress in the previous 24 hours burned – on average – 104 fewer calories from the same diet compared with those who didn't.
They also had a reduced amount of fat oxidisation. This is part of your body's process for converting large fat molecules into smaller ones which can be used, rather than stored.
4) It can be worse at night
More current research (this time by scientists from Stanford University School of Medicine) has shown that if you experience chronic or continuous stress at night time, the interruption to your circadian rhythms can – via interrupting the process of glucocorticoid oscillation (part of how your body regulates what cells to turn into fat cells) – lead to even more significant weight gain.
This is also the reason why glucocorticoid medications for asthma and rheumatoid arthritis can likewise lead to weight gain.
When stress is ongoing or chronic, weight gain can be a constant danger.
Stress and obesity also have a link in that the former can affect where your body tends to store fat:
Unfortunately, abdominal fat is also the type which high-stress levels encourage the creation of.
There are a number of ways in which stress and weight gain and related activities – or lack of activity – conspire together:
The most effective way to stop stress eating is to deal with the stress which is the underlying cause:
You might also want to try to get some more sleep or to talk about your problem with a trusted friend or family member – no matter how initially embarrassing it might feel.
You should also consider speaking with your doctor if you feel you are struggling to handle stress and nothing is helping.
Henry Warren I am a professional writer and health & wellness enthusiast.