Stress. It’s a small word but a big problem, especially if you’re watching your weight.
What exactly is stress and why does it impact weight the way it does? Medically or biologically speaking, stress is a physical, mental or emotional factor that causes tension. Your body responds to stress and the hormones it releases (cortisol), which can impact fat storage. For example: we may “stress eat” for comfort and choose unhealthy choices that contribute to weight gain.
Understanding The Vicious Cycle
A lot of stress over a prolonged period of time raises your cortisol levels, which also:
- Increases insulin levels
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Increases sugar cravings
We want to feel better, so we tend to reach for comfort foods high in fat, sugar and carbs. These can be very calming to the brain, thus tricking you into thinking you’re reducing stress! Naturally, you’ll crave the same comfort foods when you’re feeling overwhelmed, angry or stressed. However, if the vicious cycle continues, weight gain could be imminent.
The Role of Cortisol
The hormone cortisol activates an enzyme that is responsible for depositing and storing fat. Research has found a direct connection between high cortisol and excess fat stored in the belly area. Long-term stress can lead to more fat in our midsections. Therefore, cortisol directly affects fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals.
Tips for Stress Management
Creating a stress and weight management plan doesn’t have to be stressful! All you need is some planning and then doing. Below are some ideas to get you started.
Create a Support System.
This can be family, friends, colleagues or anyone that makes you feel comfortable in your time of need. Make a list of these people to keep handy. Write their contact information and availability next to their names so you know how to reach them when you’re feeling stressed. This may help ease your frustration when looking for a number to call.
Make Time for Just You.
There is nothing selfish about self-care. We all need some alone time to recharge and reboot. Don’t feel guilty about it! It can be as little as five minutes if that’s all the time you have. Just make sure to make yourself a priority because your health depends on it.
Get Moving as a Line of Defense.
Exercise is a great way to reduce stress and manage your weight. A brisk walk can lower your stress levels and help you shed a few unwanted pounds at the same time! If you’re up for the challenge, incorporate some weights and resistance training. When you’re physically active, your brain produces natural painkillers that alleviate unwanted feelings of stress.
Take a Holistic Approach.
Try deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or aromatherapy to calm down and center yourself. All of these techniques can help reduce your stress and ultimately help you regain control of your weight. Just a few minutes can relax your body and mind.
Laugh Your Worries Away!
They say that laughter is the best medicine. When you’re feeling stressed, think about or read something funny, chat with your funniest friend or let your favorite comic crack you up. One of laughter’s many health benefits is reducing stress and anxiety.
When you’re stressed to the max, it’s easy to make poor food choices. Try one of the above activities the next time you’re feeling bad. By reducing stress and avoiding comfort foods, you can help maintain your weight and possibly avoid more serious health consequences in the future.
About the Author:
Natalie-Jean Schiavone, PhD, has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry. After receiving her Master’s degree in General Psychology, Natalie-Jean went on to complete her doctoral degree in Health Psychology with a specialization in obesity. Dr. Schiavone conducted her research and completed her dissertation on female adolescents with obesity and their social experiences. Using her education, experience and expertise, Dr. Schiavone works with patients to create a healthier lifestyle where knowledge is a key factor in this modification.