Can stress make you fat?
That's an alarming thought considering we all live with stress on a daily basis. Constant anxiety and tension can lead to hormonal imbalance, poor eating habits, and weight gain. How do you handle stress? Experts agree that it's more than just having self control. It's more about what's happening chemically inside your body that decides how you handle stress.
Here's the low down on stress and weight gain.
Why do we turn to unhealthy foods when we are stressed? It's all in the head. When stressed, the brain sends a signal to release a burst of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the body's natural defense - it's a burst of energy so a person can get out of danger quickly - also called fight or flight.
An increase in adrenaline will trigger the signal for the hormone cortisol to be released. Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, replenishes lost energy. But what if the stressor doesn't cause you to exert physical energy (as in running away from a grizzly bear)? No calories are burned, yet cortisol is busy replenishing energy which the brain perceives is necessary in order to keep the body in homeostasis (balance).
We crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals, called serotonin, that reduce tension. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you're anxious, you want fattening or sugary foods. Serotonin is thought to affect our brains similar to the addictive nature of drugs and alcohol. It's no surprise how we can unknowingly fall into this trap.
So how do you cope with stress?
Avoiding stressors is impossible. Sure, there are steps you can take to eliminate some of those poisons from your life. But what can you do about the unavoidable?
Can't make it to the gym? Head outdoors and run the stairs. Act like a kid and tackle the playground. Do a few sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, and waist-bends. Do anything to get your body moving and feeling powerful. The point is to give your adrenal glands a reason to release cortisol so that it can be properly used by the body.
Many people turn to comfort food as a solution to their stress. But if you instead consume a healthy well-balanced meal, those impulsive cravings will be impeded from rearing their ugly heads.
Do not restrict foods
Depriving yourself will backfire. Your brain will send a signal to conserve energy, and slow your metabolism, because it thinks it's starving. Instead of dieting or food restriction, why not allow yourself to indulge a little? You won't feel deprived and you still get to enjoy some of those comfort foods without the guilt.
Sleep it off
When stressed, some people experience insomnia, while others sleep it off. Staying awake all night and stewing about the issue will cause you to gain weight. The reason is because when you are tired during the day, the brain sends a signal out calling on the need for carbohydrates (instant energy). Lack of sleep and overeating is a toxic marriage. Convince yourself that nothing can be solved in the dark. Go to sleep and hit the problem with renewed vigor the next day. Sleeping it off is the healthier option.
Stress is a normal part of our lives. Understanding how your brain and body chemically respond to stress will empower you to take charge of your life and may even help you avoid an expanding waistline.
So how do you cope with stress? Hop on over to the forum and let us know what strategies work for you.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and the articles I write are intended to increase your knowledge about the subject. It’s always a good idea to check with your personal doctor before changing your diet or starting a new fitness routine.