Have you ever found yourself eating a burger and chips in the car on the way to a meeting? Or eating a tub of ice-cream when you are feeling down? You are not alone! Stress causes an increase in appetite, makes us retain the fat and reduces motivation to make a change.
However, if you are not one of those who overeats when stressed but still manages to gain weight then read below and find out what other reasons can be causing this.
Our hormones have a lot to do with weight gain during stress; our brain detects ‘threat’ and goes into the flight or fight response. This response releases a cascade of chemicals including adrenaline, Corticotropin-releasing hormone, and cortisol. This allows your body to feel alert and ready for any ‘threat’. After the fight or flight response, the effects of adrenaline wear off and as a lot of energy has been used up, your body needs replenishing with food supply. When cortisol levels rise, you start to feel fatigued and hungry. An increase in cortisol also affects cravings – a reason why many of us tend to eat sugary, fatty foods when stressed. If eating sugars and fats becomes a habit, it can be hard to break. It can also lead to other health problems like high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and more. A study found when lab mice were under ‘stress’ they ate high-fat pellets, when given the choice between them and their normal feed.
Stress can cause anxiety; this can also trigger emotional eating, as well as eating ‘mindlessly’. As you worry, you tend to be less focused on how much you have eaten or even when you are feeling full. When you eat mindlessly, you will eat more, but feel less satisfied.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone and is secreted in large amounts during stress. The release of cortisol impacts the way your body metabolises glucose, how much energy your muscles burn and tolerance to stress. Typically, cortisol, glucose and insulin work in harmony to keep blood sugars stable, if you have not eaten for many hours, blood sugar drops and sends a message to the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This shifts and organises fats, amino acids from muscles and glucose from glycogen stores in the liver to keep your body and brain fueled in the absence of food. Under stress, both insulin and cortisol levels remain high; more glucose is stored as fat in the abdominal fat cells. Research shows fat cells have stress hormone receptors for cortisol, and there are more receptors in the abdomen cells than anywhere else. Therefore, chronic-stress allows cortisol to be released more than usual and this can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, as well as raising blood sugar, and reduces the ability to burn fat and increases fat storage.
A constant influx of cortisol and stress can cause symptoms like fatigue, low-energy, weight gain (predominantly abdomen), reliance on caffeine and carbohydrates as energy sources, afternoon dip, difficulty sleeping, unable to cope with stressful situations and regular mood swings. This can lead to conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Undetected thyroid could also present with similar symptoms, so it is advised to get it checked by a healthcare professional.
A lack of sleep can disrupt the functioning of ghrelin and leptin, both hormones control appetite. When we are stressed, blood sugar is decreased, that alongside lack of sleep can make us crave carbohydrates.
Below are some tips you can implement to manage your stress:
- Breathe – deep, slow, full breaths have a positive effect on reducing stress because the vagus nerve goes through your diaphragm and is activated with every deep breath.
- Sleep – lack of sleep increases stress hormones.
- Get to the root cause of the stress – toxicity, magnesium vitamin B12 deficiencies, and gluten allergies could be changing your brain.
- Supplement – take a multivitamin and nutrients to help balance the stress response; vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, zinc and magnesium. Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng, cordyceps, and ashwagandha are known to have relaxing compounds.
So you can see that managing stress as well as maintaining a healthy weight is achievable with the right guidance and expert attention to detail, you can get the pain-free outcome that you deserve. Changing your body can change your mind.
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