Cortisol And Comfort Foods
Levels of “the stress hormone,” cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the hormone also help cause higher insulin levels, your blood sugar drops and you crave sugary, fatty foods.
So instead of a salad or a banana, youre more likely to reach for cookies or mac and cheese. Thats why theyre called comfort foods.
Jason Perry Block, MD, an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard, says eating can be a source of solace and can lower stress.
This happens, in part, because the body releases chemicals in response to food that might have a direct calming effect.
Fatty and sugary foods are usually the big culprits, because lots of us have such a strong love for them.
The bottom line? More stress = more cortisol = higher appetite for junk food = more belly fat, says Shawn M. Talbott, PhD, a nutritional biochemist.
How Does Chronic Stress Affect Weight
Stress is an emotional and physical response to the things that happen in your life. When we experience stress, it causes a number of problems in our bodies, both mental and physical.
The part of our immune system responsible for dealing with inflammation and infections becomes weakened making it easier to become sick because your body isnt fighting back as hard as it should be.
The part of our brain that controls the things we need to survive is also affected causing us to act like less than what we are capable of becoming. This means that you may find yourself doing routine tasks at less than your full capacity even when you know you are better than you let on.
The other part of our brain responsible for growth and development is affected as well causing us to be less than the people we have the potential to become.
When you experience chronic stress, it can inhibit your ability to lose weight because youre not growing and evolving at your full potential.
In addition, it can also cause a number of other problems when it comes to our health which can make losing weight that much harder too.
Our bodies are constantly fighting back against chronic stress by weakening our immune system and making us feel sick and less powerful in our daily lives.
How Stress Prevents Weight Loss And 3 Ways To Beat It
How stress prevents weight loss sounds counter-intuitive. Surely the more stressd you are, the more weight you lose? Not so, Im afraid..
Youre under pressure. Youre anxious and on the go all the time. You arent overeating and you are exercising a fair amount, yet you seem to be gaining weight, rather than losing. What the heck is going on?
The hustle and bustle of daily life naturally creates a certain amount of pressure that actually helps us function. A demanding work environment, family issues, illness, financial worries and relationship problems are part of life, but its the impact that they have that matters.
Constant, chronic low- or high-grade type of stress that can wreak havoc on your emotional as well as physical health. Aside from causing anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation, stress can lead to hypertension, weight problems and an increased vulnerability to colds, infections and more serious illnesses.
5 Reasons How Stress Prevents Weight Loss
2. Stress causes the body to produce more of the hormone cortisol: cortisol is a stress hormone that promotes body fat and makes it harder to lose weight, especially around the middle. This is called visceral fat and is particularly dangerous because it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels and paving the way for heart disease and diabetes .
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What Causes Weight Loss
Losing weight is almost always a case of calories in versus calories out.
If you start taking in fewer calories, youâll create a calorie deficit in your body. Then, your body will burn into stored energy and youâll lose weight as a result. You can do this by eating fewer calories than you burn or expending more energy than you eat.
But a calorie deficit isnât the full explanation for unexplained weight loss. What if youâre still eating the same way as ever â and your activity levels havenât changed much either?
Cortisol Can Affect Insulin Regulation
When you’re stressed, your body prepares itself to fight or flee by releasing stress hormones like cortisol. This can make it hard for another hormone â insulin â to do its job properly, resulting in a condition called insulin resistance, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Insulin resistance prompts your body to produce more insulin in an attempt to keep your blood sugar levels stable. But this can lead to weight gain, which can in turn make your insulin levels worse, per the Cleveland Clinic. Prolonged insulin resistance can also up your risk for conditions like prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
Insulin resistance can also send the appetite centers of the brain into a bit of a funk, Dr. Fertig says, which may contribute to craving processed food or eating more than you might otherwise. And eating sugary, processed snacks can disturb a component of your metabolism called redox and potentially promote another wave of insulin resistance.
If you regularly show signs of high blood sugar from insulin resistance â like blurred vision or increased thirst, hunger and urination â visit your doctor to help control the condition and prevent prediabetes or diabetes, per the Cleveland Clinic.
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Signs You May Be Experiencing Stress
1. Unexplainable Weight Loss
The first and most obvious sign weight loss results from not eating for some time .
The biggest tip that tells you that stress is causing weight loss is the physical signs. Your body will not take anything in when stressed, losing weight to combat this is common.
2. Mood Swings
The other main sign of stress and weight loss a person will have extreme mood swings both physically and mentally.
This is a result of your body trying and your mind telling you to eat even when you dont want to eat.
This can cause you to gain a lot of weight very quickly because youre not only eating but also starving yourself .
3. Unexplainable Fatigue
Extra Layers of fat, loss of energy and weakness, feeling not as great when you wake up is a clear sign that stress is causing weight loss.
This does not mean youre anorexic, but it does mean theres something going on mentally thats causing your body to react in this way.
Another common signs of stress and weight loss can cause dizziness and even fainting.
This is another one of your bodys responses to the strong mental feelings you have about stress. This can also cause dehydration and a slowdown on the bodys metabolism.
5. Irritability and Anxiety
When dealing with stress and weight loss, it is very common to become more irritable than usual.
You may have trouble relaxing, sleeping or meeting deadlines at work or school because youre constantly worried about something.
6. A Nonexistent Appetite
Dealing With Stress And Weight Loss
So what exactly can you do about your stress? How do you deal with it so that it doesnt manage you?
The answer depends on how much stress you find yourself experiencing on a daily basis.
It also depends on the kind of coping mechanisms you use as well as how adept you are at dealing with stressful situations without them getting the best of your health, relationships and emotional well-being.
Stress Can Affect Your Diet
Stress can also change your relationship with food.
On one hand, 50 percent of us eat more when we’re stressed, which can lead to weight gain, says Brian Fertig, MD, associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. And remember, not getting enough sleep is also linked to eating more calories and processed foods, per the âNature Communicationsâ research.
Stress also triggers your body to release the hormone cortisol, which helps you stay on high alert so you can handle a dangerous situation, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Cortisol can likewise trigger cravings for sugary, salty and fatty foods â quick calories that provide fuel for fighting or fleeing a stressor, but that can also contribute to weight gain, per the Cleveland Clinic.
On the other hand, the remaining 50 percent of us eat less during times of stress, Dr. Fertig says. This is why stress and anxiety can cause weight loss for some people.
Effects Of Excess Cortisol
Excess cortisol stimulates glucose production. This excess glucose is then typically converted into fat, which gets stored in your body. For example, people with serious metabolic conditions that involve excessive cortisol production, such as Cushing syndrome, have an unhealthy increase in abdominal fat.
A chronically high level of circulating cortisol increases fat storage and raises the risk of obesity. And when you have too much adrenaline, fat cells eventually become less responsive to adrenal stimulation to release fat.
Some studies have found that stress-induced cortisol levels can cause people to increase the amount of food they eat.
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Why Is Artificial Stress Dangerous
Sometimes people who have experienced stress and losing weight in such a situation may consider it a benefit to the body. Some people then try to artificially create a stressful situation for weight loss. However, it is a very dangerous idea. Firstly, this process is very difficult to control it can lead to severe exhaustion, even critical health disorders.
Secondly, losing weight from stress can result in a sharp increase in adipose tissue after the cause of the stress disappears. The drastic weight loss will, in any case, affect the performance of all primary body systems. In particular, the health of the heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas can be impaired. Therefore, in no case try to lose weight by entering the body into artificial stress.
Losing weight under stress is by no means a safe phenomenon that can lead to very unpleasant consequences. Of course, for a while, people can rejoice in losing weight, but in fact, they do not even suspect that dangerous processes are taking place in the body. A serious illness such as anorexia begins, in most cases, due to the refusal to eat in a stressful state. In addition, common consequences include:
- Heart arrhythmia.
- Violations in the work of the musculoskeletal system.
- Rapid hair loss.
Stress Might Lead To Excessive Exercise
Exercise is one of the best ways to cope with stress. Exercise can help you gain runners high. This happens when your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are hormones that cause happiness.
If you are stressed out, then you would want to feel that happiness. Some people try to chase that happiness a little too much and exercise more than necessary.
We already talked about how adrenaline can cause weight loss. Exercise also helps release adrenaline, so if you are stressed out and exercising, you will be releasing a significant amount of adrenaline and losing weight at a rapid rate.
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Tips For Healthy Weight Gain
If you find that stress is making you skip meals or forget to eat, you may want to create more structure around your eating habits.
Make sure youre eating at least two big meals a day and prioritize high-quality protein, healthy fats, and vegetables. Good nutrition will make your body more resilient to stress.
If youre not skipping meals but youre still losing weight, consider adding more calories to your diet than you would normally eat. Stick to healthy foods eating fast food, packaged snacks, or empty carbohydrates can compromise your immune system and make the effects of stress worse for you, not better.
You may also want to talk to a nutritionist about your diet. He or she can help you find a nutrition plan that promotes healthy weight gain.
Ways Stress And Weight Are Connected
Whether it’s the pandemic, burnout from work or relationship issues, stress is a part of everyday life. And while some stress is normal, chronic stress can take a toll on your health. Case in point: your weight. Indeed, stress can cause weight loss or gain.
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Let’s first clarify that temporary stress can be a good thing: Acute stress can help you stay alert to your surroundings and may even stimulate your body’s ability to recover in situations of short-term strain, like surgery, according to Stanford Medicine.
But when stress becomes chronic, it can negatively affect your body and mind, per Stanford Medicine. That’s because today, stress often manifests as a response to mentally taxing situations, like trauma, grief or burnout .
Living in a prolonged state of stress can literally change your body’s functioning, which can have an effect on your weight, per Stanford Medicine. It can also lead to coping mechanisms that likewise contribute to weight changes.
Here, we talked to experts to learn about the connections between stress and weight gain or loss .
Chronic stress is linked to conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, addiction and mood and anxiety disorders, according to Yale Health. As a result, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you have prolonged stress to help prevent long-term health issues.
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Weight Loss During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, women often experience intense levels of stress due to hormonal changes in their body as well as adjusting to life with an infant on the way. This can result in very rapid weight loss for some pregnant womenupwards of 30 pounds over several months without any change in diet or exercise! Again, cortisol is responsible for most cases of extreme prenatal weight loss.
Weight loss can be a welcome side effect of pregnancy, but it can also lead to other health complications and should be discussed with your doctor before you take any action that could impact your weight or health in such a significant way. If youre pregnant and experiencing rapid weight loss, talk to your healthcare provider about the best ways to monitor and maintain your current levels of physical wellness during this exciting time for both you and your baby!
Why You Lose Weight
Stress and anxiety are commonly associated with weight gain, and for a good reason – during times of anxiety, the body releases heavy amounts of cortisol, which is a hormone that contributes to weight gain – especially around the midsection. Anxiety also causes further inactivity as people stop engaging in many activities, which can also increase weight gain.
Yet for various reasons, weight loss is also a problem that may occur with anxiety. There are several factors that cause this weight loss to occur:
It’s important to remember that anxiety itself makes you worry about things that shouldn’t necessarily be worried. Weight loss may also simply occur naturally. But if you were not suspecting to lose weight, this can cause significant health concerns. It’s simply the nature of anxiety to cause people to worry about their health.
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The Role Of Cortisol In The Body
Stress can significantly impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent you from losing weight. Whether it’s the result of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy stress-induced behaviors, or a combination of the two, the link between stress and weight gain is glaring.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
Work With A Licensed Therapist
Work with professionals who will guide you in learning ways to manage stress and weight-related issues. If you’re suffering from anxiety due to prolonged stress and feel your weight or physical health is being affected, a licensed therapist can help you. With compassion and expertise, licensed therapists are equipped to help you develop positive and healthy eating habits. You can read reviews of some BetterHelp therapists below, from people experiencing similar issues.
“Shana is a very helpful and thoughtful counselor. Shana not only helped me work through my immediate problems but discussed a path forward so that I could find more time to enjoy myself and manage the stress and anxiety in the future. I really appreciate her counseling.”
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Reasons For Stress Weight Loss
The fact is that the body perceives the long-term nervous experience as a period of illness. As a result, more often than not, people can experience a complete loss of appetite. And when you cannot eat because you are in great excitement or stress, you lose weight fast. But this is perhaps the most obvious reason. In fact, everything is a little more complicated.
The likelihood of losing weight under stress is higher than gaining weight. It is because a significant amount of cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine are released into the bloodstream. These are the hormones responsible for our emotions and the functioning of the nervous system, brain, and metabolism.
So, adrenaline is responsible for the production of fatty acids and tissue metabolism. It can enhance the breakdown of fats into simple components. Blood pressure can change under the influence of norepinephrine, and the same hormone activates the work of all internal organs.
Cortisol, in turn, controls carbohydrate metabolism, which is directly related to the balance of the bodys energy reserves. During stress, the concentration of all these hormones rises sharply. It means that nutrients begin to be consumed in high quantity to make your body ready for any stress. A temporary rush of strength is important and necessary to solve the problem. But if this stressful state is constant, your internal reserves are depleted. As a result, healthy sleep and appetite may disappear, and you begin to lose weight quickly.