Are you having a hard time at work or at home? You know you’re stressed, and it’s beginning to show -- in more ways than one. You’ve noticed a bulge around your mid-section that wasn’t there before. How come when you’ve been watching your diet so carefully? And of course, this leads to further stress…
Stress plays a key role in weight gain. While initially, it can make you have less of an appetite, long-term "chronic" stress actually boosts your hunger.
Fight and Flight
Most of us become overeaters when we're feeling a lot of pressure. This happens thanks to your fight-or-flight response, a.k.a. survival mode -- once your body reaches a certain stress level, it does what it feels it needs to. In most cases, that means overeat. To put it simply, your body thinks it has to store food as you need it to deal with a stressful situation (think of being attacked by a lion – you need the energy provided by food to feed your muscles so that you can run as fast as possible!). The trouble is if you continue to remain in this state of stress, your body will never switch off this survival mode (and therefore your digestion will be thrown off balance too because in such times, your “rest and digest” mode is slowed down (which also has an impact on your immune system so you’ll be more prone to catching colds etc.).
Cortisol and Comfort Foods
Levels of "the stress hormone," cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the hormone also help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.
So instead of a salad or an apple, you’re more likely to reach for a biscuit or a slice of pizza. That’s why they’re called “comfort foods.”
Fatty and sugary foods are usually the big culprits, because lots of us have such a strong love for them.
So more stress = more cortisol = higher appetite (especially for junk food) = more belly fat
Surplus weight (especially around the middle) may lead to other issues, including:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
If you think your weight has gone up due to stress, start by adopting some healthy eating and lifestyle habits that can help you get back on track, including time out and relaxation.
You may want to exercise, but don’t overdo it as high-impact workouts can actually raise cortisol levels. Instead, go for a brisk walk, try yoga or tai chi.
Meditation and mindful breathing exercises are also great ways of clearing your mind and curbing those cravings.
Other activities include reading, listening to music and also of utmost importance, ensure you’re getting plenty of good-quality sleep.