Stress Weight Gain And Cortisol
When our bodies release cortisol, our energy, metabolism, and blood flow are all directed to support our survival instinct. This fight or flight response was necessary back when stressful situations meant running away from bears or facing other circumstances that threatened our survival. Today, many of the stressful situations we find ourselves in dont require this type of survival response.
While the secretion of cortisol is necessary to help the body deal with stress, its important that cortisol levels return to normal following stressful events. Otherwise, chronic stress that doesnt go away can cause our hormones to remain imbalanced and throw off our blood sugar, leptin, and ghrelin levels. This chemical response can eventually lead to weight gain and obesity.
Final Thoughts: How To Lose Weight Gained From Stress
As youll now know, stress is something that everyone will experience at some point in their life, and this can often turn into high stress and eating too much food if you arent careful.
But if you take on board the tips Ive outlined in this article, youll be able to manage your stress levels better, and this will hopefully promote weight loss.
Managing your diet and getting in enough exercise each week will undoubtedly make a huge difference, but you must first identify the things that are causing elevated stress levels to identify the root cause.
Whatever the cause may be, the best thing you can do is start today!
The Toll Of Weight Stigma
Weight gain is about so much more than a number on the scale. Theres a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, Walters said. As psychologists, we should help patients realize that weight gain is a normal reaction to an abnormal circumstance. So many of our coping strategies have been unavailable to us this year. Its not a character flaw.
It can help to remind people how many factors are stacked against them when it comes to maintaining ones weight, Sarwer said. People are so quick to personalize their weight and see themselves as being at fault. In fact, countless physical and environmental factors contribute to weight gain, he said. If you think about the way we interact with food in the U.S., where there is such an availability of high-calorie foods and beverages at relatively low cost, its easier to gain weight than it is to maintain or lose it.
Even before the pandemic, weve known that weight stigma contributes to depression and anxiety, emotional distress, and disordered eating, Puhl said. Weight stigma is an added stressor during an already stressful time.
For people seeking help with overweight and obesity, addressing stigma and working through shame and self-blame is an important piece of the puzzle. Patients often feel very alone in this, Puhl said. Its important to normalize pandemic weight changes as a legitimate experience, help people cope with the distress of stigma, and work with them to lessen self-blame and self-recrimination.
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Have A Cheat Day Or At Least Dessert One Day A Week
You dont have to eat perfect ALL of the time. If you really miss chocolate cake or ice cream, allow yourself ONE cheat day or just a cheat dessert on Saturday for example.
Thats right! Im talking about even refined food!
This has been an essential part of how to lose stress weight for me. I love my cheat day. I dont feel deprived, and then my body is so used to healthy food, that Im excited to go back to my anti-inflammatory diet the next day.
Make sure this is something you plan for, not an impulsive decision that keeps happening over and over again. That will defeat the purpose and you wont lose the weight.
For a good mid-week treat, I recommend at least 70% or 80% dark chocolate because its lower in sugar, high in antioxidants, and its so decadent.
Personal Or Childhood Trauma
Some researchers have found that people who were exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, or peer bullying are at higher risk for obesity. Those who have experienced emotional trauma may adapt their eating habits to the point that it affects their weight.
Some scientists believe that weight gain can be used as an emotionally protective “solution” for survivors of abuse.
Of course, not every person who experiences personal or childhood trauma struggles to maintain a healthy weight. But if you experienced abuse, neglect, or bullying there may be a connection.
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Try To Avoid Foods That Can Crash Your Blood Sugar And Make You Feel Worse
Although foods high in sugar can provide a quick boost of energy, the comedown is inevitable. When the sugar leaves your bloodstream, it may leave you feeling worse than before.
Foods high in fat and sodium may also make stress worse.
Try to limit or avoid the following until your stress subsides:
- fried food
- processed foods
Can You Lose Weight Despite Stress
Your stress isnt likely going to go away anytime soon. Its just part of life.
So can you lose weight even if youre busy and feel stressed?
The answer? Yes!
Take my client Tree as an example.
Tree has an extremely stressful job at a Fortune 500 company.
Her weight had been creeping up and she knew that she needed to change things, but she was just too busy.
After enrolling in my program, she lost 20 pounds, just by making simple lifestyle changes. Oh, and she did it while enjoying her chocolate cake and without a single sit up.
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How To Break The Cycle Of Stress And Weight Gain
When you’re stressed out, healthy behaviors likely eating properly and exercising regularly can easily fall by the wayside. Maintaining a schedule and/or routine can help make these healthy behaviors a habit and combat stress-related weight changes. Here are a few strategies that can help you break the cycle of stress and weight gain:
How To Prevent Future Health Issues
Although decreasing your stress levels may feel impossible some days, you can still manage the effects of elevated cortisol. To begin with, practicing relaxation through mindfulness, meditation, yoga or deep breathing can help bring the production of this hormone back down to normal levels.
Youll also prevent the excess storage of empty calories by ensuring that you consume a diet high in quality foods. Even though your body may be craving a quick fix, aim to eat mostly whole, plant-based foods. Of course, making the decision to eat right isnt always easy, but its worth it. By monitoring your diet, the calories you consume will be turned into energy, not converted into fat and stored by the body.
Finally, exercise is an excellent way to manage your stress hormones too. Whether you go out for a run, take a daily walk with your family or hit the gym, exercising will help maintain your lean body mass. This is especially important during prolonged periods of high cortisol levels.
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Stress Eating: 5 Ways To Beat It According To A Nutritionist
Stress may wreak havoc on your metabolism. Here’s how you can stop stress eating.
I think we can all agree that stress is bad. Excess stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, sleep disturbances, and depression. Research shows it may also wreak havoc on metabolism and cause stress-induced weight gain.
We’ve known for some time that stress is connected to gaining weight, because a high level of the stress hormone cortisol has been shown to increase appetite and lead to stress eating, drive cravings for junk food, and make it easier to accumulate belly fat. And an Ohio State study shows that stress may also result in burning fewer calories.
In the study, researchers questioned women about stress they had the previous day. The women were then fed a meal containing a very generous 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. After eating, scientists measured their metabolic rates and took blood samples.
In the seven hours after eating the mondo meal, those who had reported being stressed out within the previous 24 hours burned less of the fat they consumed, and they had higher levels of insulin, a hormone that contributes to fat storage. They also burned 104 fewer calories. That may not sound like much, but if you are aiming to lose pounds, it’s enough of a difference to account for a weight gain of almost 11 pounds in one year.
The Link Between Stress And Weight Loss
While its more common to see stress associated with weight gain, some people are more likely to lose weight when stressed.
Stress can lead to decreased appetite, missed meals or increased exercise as a way to relieve the stress. You may lose the desire to eat or feel like it takes too much energy to cook.
Additionally, when people lose weight from stress, they tend to lose it quickly.
Quick weight loss often leads to eventual weight regain, which can be incredibly frustrating.
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Nervous Movement Burns Calories
Some people use physical activity to work through stress. Although an exercise-fueled endorphin rush can reduce your stress, engaging in more physical activity than normal could result in unexpected weight loss.
Sometimes stress triggers unconscious movement, like foot tapping or finger clicking. These tics may help your body process your feelings, but they also burn calories.
Emotions And Weight Loss
Most of us have good intentions when it comes to eating right and exercising more often. And most of us know the basics of what to eat and what to avoid. But even with the best of intentions, we often end up derailing our progress when we feel tired, or stressed, or bored, or frustrated. And let’s face it…these emotions pop up often.
We are all creatures of habit. We find comfort in routine. So, if your routine includes food and activity patterns that have led to an unhealthy weight, it is normal that you seek out those comfortable habits when times get tough. These habits relieve discomfortat least in the short term.
What’s worse, is that you likely have strong rationalization skills to support the continuation of unhealthy habits. After all, why would you discontinue a practice that provides relief and comfort?
In the case of food habits, it is particularly difficult to change our habits. Our bodies are designed to eat and we need food to survive. We also feel better when we eat.
But all is not lost if you want to change your habits for weight loss. The psychology of weight loss works against you in some ways, but it can work for you in others. In order to get past your roadblock, you’ll first need to figure out specifically, what that roadblock is.
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Stress And Weight Gain: Fast Facts
Can stress cause weight gain?
Yes, stress can make you gain weight for different reasons. Stress could cause you to seek comfort in unhealthy food habits. That can lead to unwanted weight gain. Stress-related weight gain could also be the effect of higher cortisol levels.
Whats the link between stress, cortisol, and weight gain?
When youre stressed, your body amps up production of cortisol. Cortisol can increase your blood sugar levels and increase your appetite. This can promote weight gain.
How to stop cortisol weight gain
Tackle stress with calming activities, including:
Are There Other Ways Stress Leads To Weight Gain
Yes. Not only can stress influence your cortisol levels, but not managing it can also lead to other unhealthy behaviors that can also lead to weight gain. Here are a few:
Eating food can be a way to soothe difficult emotions for some, which, like in every rom-com, might be why you’re more tempted to eat ice cream after a breakup or an argument with your partner. That’s because of the dopamine hit, or pleasurable feeling, we get from eating palatable, high-calorie foods, Dr. Youdim says. “When weâre stressed or when we have difficult emotions or an emotional, psychological void, we search for ways to feel pleasure.”
But emotional eating can lead to unhealthy eating habits, like snacking at odd hours when you normally wouldn’t, or eating a lot more of foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition. Those unhealthy eating habits can then lead to weight gain.
Binge eating is a disorder in which a person eats an unusually large amount of food in one sitting in order to deal with negative emotions. It goes beyond the common kind of emotional eating mentioned aboveâpeople who binge eat may also feel guilt and shame for their behavior, or feel like they have a lack of control. While it can certainly lead to weight gain, binge eating can also have detrimental mental health effects. If this is something you’re experiencing, it’s best to see a doctor who can help you determine the best course of action.
Eating fast food
Drinking more alcohol
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Activation Of The Bodys Fight
When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of epinephrine, also called adrenaline, from the adrenal glands. A rush of epinephrine activates the bodys fight-or-flight response, which prepares a person to flee or fight off an impending threat.
Epinephrine causes the heart to beat faster and breathing to speed up, which can burn calories. Additionally, it changes how the gut digests food and alters blood glucose levels.
What Exactly Is A Stress Belly
Basically, stress belly is not a medical diagnosis, its a way of describing how stress and stress hormones can affect your weight, especially your belly. For instance, higher levels of cortisol – the primary stress hormone – have been associated with abdominal obesity. This crucial hormone produced in the adrenal gland also helps with blood sugar control, metabolism and many other functions in the body. Cortisol, along with other hormones like adrenaline, is a part of the bodys fight or flight response that occurs when faced with a crisis. During a stressful event, cortisol levels rise to give you a surge of energy to help you deal with the event. And once the stress is addressed, everything returns to normal.
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Establish Boundaries And Priorities
Saying yes to things you shouldnt, such as extra work projects or impromptu visits from family members, can raise your stress levels. Establish boundaries and dont be afraid to say no if you feel that these extras could lead to more stress. Also, prioritize things in life that can reduce your stress and help you stay healthy, such as exercise and quality time with your loved ones.
How To Reduce Stress By Feeling Less Hungry
We could have included this above but it’s so important that it warrants its own section. Seriously, you don’t want to miss this.
One of the most effective ways to combat hunger is by eating foods that are high in volume but low in calories.
Apples are a perfect example of this, because you can eat a large apple without consuming many calories. Other examples include vegetables, lean meats, and certain soups.
Rice can also be a great high-volume food, although it does come with the possibility of water retention. Which is also very important to learn about.
So consider making some of these foods part of your regular diet. Doing so can really help with both stress and weight loss.
We are also working on an article specifically dedicated to high-volume/low-calorie foods and will provide a link once it is published.
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Ways To Beat Stress Fat
Anxiety is a powerful trigger for weight gain. Here’s how to stop itfast.
For most of us, stress is a fact of life. Unfortunately, research reveals that it’s also a fact of fat. “Even if you usually eat well and exercise, chronic high stress can prevent you from losing weightor even add pounds,” says Pamela Peeke, MD, author of Body for Life for Women.
Here’s what happens: Your body responds to all stress in exactly the same way. So every time you have a stressful day, your brain instructs your cells to release potent hormones. You get a burst of adrenaline, which taps stored energy so you can fight or flee. At the same time, you get a surge of cortisol, which tells your body to replenish that energy even though you haven’t used very many calories. This can make you hungry…very hungry. And your body keeps on pumping out that cortisol as long as the stress continues.
But few of us reach for carrots in these situations. “Instead, we crave sweet, salty, and high-fat foods because they stimulate the brain to release pleasure chemicals that reduce tension,” explains Elissa Epel, PhD, a researcher on stress eating at the University of California, San Francisco. This soothing effect becomes addicting, so every time you’re anxious, you want fattening foods.
Obviously, getting rid of all anxiety isn’t an option. But by taking these 7 steps to beat stress, you can get your cortisol levels and your weight under controland improve your health.
What Stress Does To Your Body
You may not notice it at first, but stress can have a noticeable effect on your body.
From tight muscles and headaches to feeling irritated, overwhelmed, and out of control, stress takes a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health.
In many cases, youll feel the effects of stress right away. But there are other ways your body responds to stress, such as weight gain, that may take time to notice.
According to Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a weight loss physician, your body responds to stress by increasing levels of cortisol, which gets the body ready to fight or flee.
Cortisol, a stress hormone released by the adrenal glands, increases in response to a threat. When you no longer perceive a threat, cortisol levels return to normal.
But if stress is always present, you can experience an overexposure to cortisol, which Seltzer says is a problem since cortisol is also a significant appetite stimulant.
This is why so many people respond to stress by going for comfort food, he explains.
And to make matters worse, Seltzer also points out that excess calories consumed in the setting of high cortisol appear to be preferentially deposited around the middle.
Whats more, a 2015 study showed that our bodies metabolize slower under stress.
The study found that the women participants who reported one or more stressors during the previous 24 hours burned 104 fewer calories than non-stressed women.
The risks associated with weight gain include:
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