Stress and Weight Gain

April 23rd, 2013


There seems to be no avoiding stress these days. Everybody is rushing around trying to save time, avoid being late for work, always watching the clock rushing to get home, get the meals prepared and all the time we are under more and more pressure to order a takeout instead of cooking a nutritious meal, a lot of the time we are just too tired or too hungry to bother. Day in day out we subject ourselves to this constant cycle of worry, stress and bad diet, modern studies now tell us that the stress we experience is making us develop illnesses that can shorten our lives, so we have even more to worry about! So it seems stress can even cause us to gain weight regardless of our dietary intake.

When we experience stress our bodies react by releasing chemicals into our bloodstream - they are adrenaline and cortisol. They are chemical hormones that have been invaluable to us when we lived a hunter- gatherer lifestyle and we were actually on the lookout for other predators and hostile tribe members who may be out to kill us. These hormones are great if we are actually in physical danger as they produce an elevated sense of alertness that helps us to either fight or flee in an emergency life- threatening situation. Trouble is, most of our worries are mental and/or emotional in nature, so these chemicals are no use to us at all, in fact they are harmful to us. When we are at the mercy of these hormones we are far more likely to misinterpret the sensations we are feeling  and habitually deal with it by reaching for some fatty high carbohydrate type foods which we often feel a craving for, partly out of habit and partly because of the chemical imbalances in our bloodstream caused by stress.

Because high stress levels are known to cause the body's metabolism to actually slow down, then it may take longer for you to feel full, even after eating plenty of food, so we eat more and we will inevitably gain more weight. Stress makes us crave the foods that are the very worst for us, full of sugars, saturated fats and empty calories that unless we are being highly physically cative, will rapidly convert into fat. Let's face it, when was the last time you felt stressed out and found yourself craving for a salad? Many people indulge themselves in foods that are bad for them and doctors call this emotional eating, which can be a result of stress or mental illness, often just a habitual form of misguided self -medication to make ourselves feel less depressed about things.

It is certainly very hard to break the cycle and oftentimes impossible without professional support and understanding along with a sensible eating and exercise regime. Exercise is known to be a highly effective combat to stress related problems and a great way to deal with those hormonal imbalances stress can cause. We also need to learn to worry less and relax more (without resorting to using alcohol or drugs)