Can Stress Cause Weight Gain
Youâre having problems at work or at home. Youâre stressed, and itâs beginning to show — in more ways than one. Youâve noticed a bulge around your mid-section that wasnât there before. Where are these extra pounds coming from?
Stress could be one of the culprits. It plays a role in weight gain. While it can make you have less of an appetite at first, long-term “chronic” stress actually boosts your hunger.
If Youre Exercising Get Into The Habit Of Eating A Snack Afterward
Eating post-workout is the only way to restore the energy you burned while working up a sweat. Skipping a snack or small meal may seem harmless, but it can lead to unpleasant side effects like lightheadedness and low blood sugar.
Burning more calories than youre consuming can also result in unexpected weight loss.
Reach from something high in protein or healthy carbs, like:
Stress Can Tank Your Activity Levels
“Stress affects everybody differently, even though it works the same in everybody,” says Eric First, MD, co-founder and chief scientific officer at R3SET, a company dedicated to mitigating the effects of long-term stress on the body.
And stress can cause weight loss or gain indirectly: For instance, some people respond to stress by becoming sedentary, according to Harvard Health Publishing. After all, who among us didn’t hole up on the couch for a Netflix marathon at the start of the pandemic?
Activity can also help regulate your mood, improve mental health and reduce stress, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. As a result, not exercising can contribute to higher stress and weight gain without overeating.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Anxiety
There are a wide variety of signs and symptoms that indicate the presence of an anxiety disorder. And while everyones experience will differ depending upon the type and severity of his or her anxiety, some of the most common signs and symptoms that may be present include:
- Inability to complete daily activities
- Consistently drinking or using drugs to numb unpleasant feelings
- Isolating oneself from others
- Finding it hard to express ones opinion
- Difficulty being assertive
- Problems thinking about anything other than present worry
- Catastrophic thinking
- Intense sudden feelings of panic or doom
- Fear of losing control
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.
Cortisol And Fat Storage
When we are put in situations of high-stress or panic, our body goes into what is called fight or flight mode. This kind of response triggers the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Unlike adrenaline, cortisol takes longer to get back to its normal levels within the body. This higher level of cortisol is linked to an increase in cravings for unhealthy foods that are high in calories and lower in nutrients. In fact, it has been associated with changes in our insulin levels and increased fat storage.
You can see how continuously feeling stressed out or in a constant state of panic can then prolong the effects of cortisol in your body, thus leading to significant fluctuations in your weight.
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Keep An Anxiety Journal By Your Bed
If your anxiety is keeping you up at night, try keeping a journal next to your bed. Every time you find yourself struggling with an anxious thought or feeling, write it down.
Getting your anxiety out of your head and onto paper can make it feel less pressing or immediate, which can help you let go of the anxiety and get to sleep.
Also, it can sometimes just feel good to vent. See it as the toilet paper for the massive poop your brain needs to take.
Why Anxiety Causes Weight Gain
There are three main ways that anxiety can cause weight gain: it produces the stress hormone cortisol, it may contribute to over-eating, or it may reduce the amount of physical exercise that an individual engages in throughout the day. Although weight gain can be a symptom of anxiety, it is not always the reason that an individual may gain weight.
Anxiety has a very complicated impact on the body. Weight gain can be related to the emotional state of mind, but it is not always the primary factor that has caused you or a loved one to gain weight.
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What Does Stress Do To The Body
Stress has the power to interrupt the proper function of nearly every system in the body. It can cause a number of physical reactions.
When we are faced with stress, whether it be a lack of money, a busy schedule, poor diet or other negative conditions, the body begins to produce the stress hormone cortisol, which prepares us for fight or flight. This stress and anxiety response is what gives us the heightened awareness and energy we need to deal with dangerous events in our lives.
Unfortunately, in todays society, stress is inevitable. Constantly being faced with deadlines, errands at the last minute and having to be on 24/7 can overwhelm and exhaust us.
Stress actually causes the body to hold onto fat, as it becomes depleted of certain hormones needed to break down fatty acids. It can also cause an increase in appetite, which may result in overeating and unhealthy habits. Eating is often used as a way of managing stress. Eating emotionally leads to weight gain and can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and other health issues.
People who experience chronic stress and anxiety often turn to comfort foods, which causes belly fat. High cortisol levels lead to excess fat, sugar cravings, and high calorie food intake.
Alteration Of The Hpa Axis
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis controls the bodys response to stress, which affects cortisol levels.
When the body is under stress, the pituitary gland signals to the adrenal glands to release cortisol. This hormone increases the bodys fuel for energy by releasing fatty acids and glucose from the liver.
Cortisol also helps regulate the bodys immune response and reduces inflammation.
Chronic stress impairs the functioning of the HPA axis, causing changes in metabolism and eating habits.
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Symptoms Of Adrenal Fatigue
Traditional allopathic Western medicine doesnt recognize adrenal fatigue, even though the changes it can cause are now starting to be confirmed by science. Referring to it as exhaustion syndrome research from Umeå University in Sweden has found that people suffering adrenal fatigue have lower activity in their frontal lobes and also altered regulation of cortisol.
The study also found that people more prone to this condition are often over-achievers and perfectionists. This is not news to functional and integrative practitioners who see women suffering from this problem every day. They arrive feeling absolutely at the end of the line and suffering from these kinds of chronic complaints:
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Limited Or No Activity At All:
Stress can have various effects on people. Most people feel that theyre incapacitated to do anything. They either remain inactive, sluggish or sleep more to avoid their feelings of anxiousness. But on the contrary, some believe that the only way to move forward is to keep busy. They go for a run, jogging or even on a hiking adventure to eliminate the stress.
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The Importance Of Sleep And Exercise For Stress Management
In several experimental studies, short-term sleep deprivation led to increased calorie intake and weight gain.
This may be because of changes in the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, and a greater intake of high-calorie foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Most adults should aim to get seven hours or more of sleep each night, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Exercise helps lower stress levels and may help decrease symptoms of anxiety, according to a systematic review of randomized clinical trials published in August 2015 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine.
But the benefits of moving regularly dont end there. Exercise can have direct effects on weight by helping burn calories and increasing lean muscle mass, which helps with weight control, says Chao. Regular exercise can help improve your physiological toughness when facing stress. Exercise can lead to beneficial adaptations in the stress response system that improve how your body reacts to future physiological stressors, which may result in the body being more efficient at coping with psychological stressors.
Exercising regularly can also help you more rapidly recover from stressors and decrease negative feelings following a stressor. This lessens the overall wear and tear that the stressors have on the body, says Chao.
What Are The Treatments For Obesophobia
People with obesophobia should talk to a healthcare provider to ensure they manage their anxiety and prevent other disorders. Possible treatments include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy :CBT is structured psychotherapy that can help a person understand and control thoughts and emotions. This talk therapy can help people unlearn negative thoughts that happen when they think about gaining weight. Over time, they may be able to change their emotions associated with food, exercise and weight.
- Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy, sometimes called desensitization, helps people confront their fears gradually. Your therapist might gradually expose you to the idea of eating well or gaining appropriate weight to be healthy in a controlled environment. Exposure therapy starts with something less scary, like looking at pictures of people who arent overly thin. Eventually, you may be asked to think about gaining one pound or eating something high in calories. Through increasing exposure, people can learn to manage obesophobia and stay at a healthy weight.
- Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy can put a person in a trance-like but focused state. A person under hypnosis is more open to suggestions and change. A hypnotist may be able to help a hypnotized person to be less afraid of healthy weight gain.
- Medications: A variety of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications can lessen the symptoms of anxiety or depression if they interfere with your life. But medications are not a cure for obesophobia.
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Physiological Reactions To Stress
When youre stressed out, your body thinks youre in danger, so it slows down your metabolism. The body wants to keep all its energy stores as long as possible. Cortisol, produced by your adrenal glands, causes your body to store fats.
If exercise makes you anxious, then cut back on it. If you stress about working out several times a week, then you may get a better result by working out a little less frequently and using mindful eating.
Lets get to the bottom of the causes of stress and how to combat one or more stressors that cause weight gain.
Why You Crave Comfort Food When Youre Stressed
Chronic stress has an almost diabolical effect on the metabolism. Chronic stress may influence our brains reward system in areas such as the amygdala and hippocampus, which may promote food cravings, says Chao.
The secretion of cortisol in response to a stressor also tells your body to store belly fat, says Shawn Talbott, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutritional biochemist in Salt Lake City, and author of The Cortisol Connection. A review published in July 2018 in the journal Medicine found that belly fat not only adds pounds but increases your risk for heart attack.
In addition, a study published in February 2017 in the European Journal of Neurology revealed a connection between belly fat and ischemic stroke in women. At the same time, hormones released in response to chronic stress can prompt the loss of skeletal muscle, according to a study published in January 2014 in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research. Muscle tissue is the largest calorie burner in the body, so overall metabolism drops, Dr. Talbott says.
Research has repeatedly found that social support can help decrease stress levels and thus lower the likelihood of weight gain. In a study published in May 2017 in the journal Behavior Modification, researchers found that while most first-year college students gained weight, students with lower levels of social support at the beginning of college had greater increases in body mass index .
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What Is Stressing You
What is experienced as stress is very different for each individual. Some common causes of long-term stress are shift work, sleep problems, time pressure, relationship problems, bullying, loneliness, and financial worries.
The feeling of not being able to influence their situation and not being enough is perceived as stressful.
How To Deal With Stress
Weight isn’t the only reason it’s important to manage high stress levels: A prolonged stress response is linked to increased risk for metabolic and chronic diseases, Dr. Fertig says.
Per the Cleveland Clinic, set yourself up to better handle stress Ã¢â¬â and offset its downstream effects, like weight changes Ã¢â¬â by practicing the following habits:
- Get consistent, quality sleep
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Can Stress And Anxiety Cause Weight Gain
Many people tend to use the terms stress and anxiety interchangeably. But the difference is that stress is a response to threatening situations, while anxiety is the bodys natural reaction to stress.
Anxiety can be defined as excessive worry or fear about situations to come. Anxiety that becomes persistent can affect your body in many of the same ways as chronic stress.
Symptoms that occur in those who experience chronic stress and anxiety include:
- Irrational anger
Just like stress, symptoms of anxiety can upset the bodys healthy hormonal balance to cause fluctuations that ultimately cause weight gain. Sleep deprivation is another major factor that can cause weight gain, since the body produces less melatonin when youre not getting enough sleep. Melatonin drives metabolism, weight loss, and muscle gain, which is why those who lack sleep tend to have a slower metabolism and are more prone to gaining weight.
When To Talk To Your Doctor About Unexplained Weight Loss
If youre losing weight when youre under stress, but its just a couple of pounds, focus on getting through the stress and taking care of your body. Here are signs, though, that you may need to see a doctor:
- Youve dropped more than 5% of your body weight without meaning to, or around 10 pounds.
- The weight loss is happening alarmingly quickly.
- Youre experiencing digestive problems, such as diarrhea.
Your doctor will want to rule out or treat you for depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, all of which could lead either to weight loss or gain, says Goodpastor. If its a medication thats causing weight loss, you might need an adjustment, and if you are facing food scarcity or economic distress, she may be able to refer you to an organization that can help.
And of course, stress can and does trigger or exacerbate existing eating disorders, such as ARFID or anorexia. ARFID stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder, which is extreme picky eating that gets worse over time and that has nothing to do with wanting to lose weight, but nonetheless results in a person not eating enough. ARFID can be pretty bad and Im sure you know anorexia is downright dangerous, says Rosmarin. The bottom line is persistent failure to maintain an adequate weight requires professional intervention.
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Anxiety Can Cause Weight Gain
Weight gain can be a symptom of anxiety. But anxiety doesn’t always cause weight gain. That’s because the relationship is fairly complicated. The causes of gaining weight from anxiety are as follows:
- Cortisol The key reason that some people with anxiety have trouble managing their weight is because of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released during times of stress, which means that it’s also released during anxiety. Cortisol causes fat to build up around the midsection, and is one of the primary reasons that those with stress have trouble maintaining their weight.
- Excess Eating In some people, anxiety can also trigger excess eating. This may occur for two reasons. First, some people find that food provides a valuable coping tool, because it may release endorphins which improve the mood. Second, some people experience more hunger when they’re stressed. Not everyone experiences either of these reactions, which is why not everyone gains weight. The differences may also be very subtle, and you may not realize you’re eating more than you used to.
- Inactivity In addition, some people find that anxiety is very draining. They may sleep more, or they may sit at home more than they used to. This level of inactivity means that they’re burning fewer calories, which in turn means they gain more weight.
Think Before You Snack
You are watching your favorite show late at night, and you start craving something sweet or salty. You automatically reach for the jar of cookies or the bag of chips, without sparing a thought about all the unhealthy junk you put into your body.
Stop and think about what you are eating. Check the label and see how many calories you are consuming. Avoid snacking, especially at night. If you must snack, eat healthy food like fruits, nuts, etc.
Be aware of what you are eating. Most snacks are loaded with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients.
After having three full meals, if you snack mindlessly, just because you are bored or unhappy, you will gain weight. Instead of doing that to your body, always think twice before going for a snack.
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