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Is Stress The Reason You're Gaining Weight?

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Is Stress The Reason You're Gaining Weight?

If you thought that being under a lot of stress can make us lose weight, then you’d be right. Quite often, stress can cause us to miss meals or simply lose the desire to eat anything, resulting in sometimes quite dramatic, and unhealthy weight loss. 

But stress can also lead to weight gain. Emotional eating, poor food choices, eating as a comfort or grabbing calorie dense, nutrient poor food on the go, which are all related to stress, can all also lead to weight gain. However, it isn’t just the physical side of our food choices that can cause stress to lead to weight gain. There are also chemical imbalances at play, that we might not even realise.

The impact of stress on the body

When we’re faced with a work deadline, a delayed train or the worry of an upcoming event, this short term stress may affect how we feel. We might feel irritated, on a short fuse, tired and emotional.

But if our stress is more long term, we might not even think of it as a problem – it just becomes part of normal life.

Stress causes the release of the hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. In the short term, this ‘fight or flight’ hormone prepares the body to either stick around and fight the ‘threat’ or to run away from it. (It’s a primitive response that is thought to originate from our cave dwelling days where the threat might be a sabre toothed tiger, rather than a tight report deadline.)

Once the threat has gone, our cortisol levels return to normal. But long term, chronic stress causes cortisol to build up. One of the consequences of this, is that cortisol is a significant appetite stimulant. So if you’re under a lot of stress that doesn’t seem to let up, your appetite might feel like it’s raging out of control – and it’s all down to cortisol. 

As if things couldn’t sound worse, the science suggests that the weight gained as a result of high levels of cortisol tends to settle around our midriffs. There’s also evidence that our metabolism slows down when we’re stressed, leading to weight gain.

Whilst it might be good to know that those cravings for comfort or junk food aren’t necessarily caused by our willpower taking a tumble and that actually it’s chemicals inside our body at play, unwanted weight gain is stressful in itself. 

Dealing with stress 

The good news is, exercise is one of the best stress busting self-help activities we can do, with the obvious two pronged attack of also burning fat.

But when we’re stressed, the lure of the sofa or bed is often strong. All we want to do is hide away from the things causing the stress. However, exercising, especially at home, helps to relieve stress as it releases feel good hormones that can counteract the effects of the stress hormones. Yoga in particular is a great way to help you relax and unwind; the different breathing techniques help to bring calm to the body.

Other ways of combating stress include having to do lists to manage tasks, calling on close social groups to unwind, practicing mindfulness, being outside in nature and doing the things we enjoy such as reading or listening to our favourite music.

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