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Stress Causes Weight Gain - Know How?

Madhura Mohan

Posted on April 10 2020

Did you meet your nutritionist a couple of months ago to get suggestions for your weight loss goals? You have been sincerely following all that your nutritionist suggested. You count on your calories, don’t go overboard, nor do you skip your regular training but are you seeing the number on your scale creep up? The reason for weight gain is sometimes unpredictable. The nutritionists and health coaches often advise you to eat a low-calorie nutritious diet and to keep up with your workouts for weight loss. Many of us fail to give one important advice which when not managed can wreck your weight loss goals.

Find out in this article what is that underlying reason that doesn’t let you achieve your weight loss goals despite everything you are doing with your nutrition and fitness.


Eating & Exercise Aren’t The Only Things That Impact Our Weight

If weight loss is considered a puzzle, you must-have elements in it like nutrition, exercise, protein, water intake, quality sleep and supplements. There must be one element that should be missing from your puzzle…it is “stress”.

Your physical and emotional stress can take a tip on our scales! Know how…


What Is Stress & How Does It Affect Your Weight Loss Goals?

Most of the people perceive stress as headache or mental pressure, but it’s something beyond that. To define it in simple terms, stress is an evolutionary strategy to respond to threats, demands, and pressures in life. The stress can be physical, mental or social. Whether it is down to work pressure, traffic, financial worries, kid’s schedule, emotional upsets, computer crash, increasing demands at home, all of us experience stress at some point in life.

Stress is of 2 main types:

1. Short term stress: This kind of stress is a natural part of our daily life and it lasts for a limited period. Short term stress can act as a positive and motivating force.

2. Long term stress: This kind of stress lasts for a long time and is something which cannot stop suddenly. The long term stress is the one culprit that ruins your weight loss goals.


What Is The Impact Of Stress On Your Body?

Stress is an increasing pandemic which can have major consequences on overall health. Initially, it can cause headache, muscle tightness, alters your eating habits, either make you skip meals, overeat, consume unhealthy foods, forget to drink water or bring about a change in sleep patterns and an upset digestive system. In the long run, if stress is left uncontrolled or minimized, it can lead to obesity, can cause a harm to heart, brain, respiratory and mental health.

Stress triggers a fight or flight response (a physiological reaction that occurs in response to perceived stress) in our body.


How Can Stress Make Your Weight Loss Goals Harder?

Exposure to stress is intimately linked to obesity because constant stress can pump up the number of fat cells we generate. When you come across a stressful situation, your body undergoes an array of reactions on a biochemical level. These biochemical aspects can affect your eating habits, weight and sleep.

Cortisol is released into the body during times of stress along with the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine that constitutes the fight or flight response to a perceived threat.

> In general, the cortisol levels naturally rise and fall throughout the day, a cycle which is regulated by our circadian rhythms.

> The cortisol levels can remain continuously elevated in the body when a person is subjected to chronic stress.

> Following the stressful event, epinephrine and norepinephrine levels return to normal while cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer period of time.

> The amount of cortisol secreted in response to stress can vary among individuals, with some people more reactive to stressful events.

Wondering what is this cortisol I have been mentioning?


What Is Cortisol?                                                       

Cortisol is a hormone that’s naturally produced in the body by our adrenal glands. Cortisol, which is often termed as a stress hormone performs many functions in the body, like maintaining blood pressure, controlling blood sugar levels, and regulating the metabolism. The ultimate goal of cortisol secretion is the provision of energy for the body. Chronic stress or poorly managed stress can lead to elevated cortisol levels that can stimulate your appetite. The cortisol levels in the body remain high in the morning and reduce as the day goes on and is low at night.


More Stress = More Cortisol = WeightGain                                                         

Our body reacts to stress in 2 different ways:                                             The short duration stress can make people lose their appetite as the brain directs resources away from normal body functions, such as eating, to the organs needed to survive an immediate challenge. The adrenaline and cortisol during short term stress cause increased blood sugar levels. While this is helpful for finishing your quick targets, it can be detrimental when triggered constantly.

When you encounter long-term stress, cortisol and insulin remain high in the blood. Metabolically speaking, the high level of insulin will set the stage for the body to store fat. The high levels of insulin lead to reduced blood sugar levels and contribute to the storage of fat. It leads to less fat oxidation, which is the conversion of large fat molecules into smaller molecules that can be used as fuel. Fat which is not burned is stored. Obviously, your body starts craving for unhealthy foods.

                                             The catch here is cortisol will prompt us to replace the energy we would have lost had we engaged in physical activity. It does this by increasing our appetite. This condition gets worse if you churn around worrying thoughts in your mind and don’t sleep well. As explained earlier, the cortisol has to come down at night, if it is high at night, it can stop you from sleeping well. If you are not sleeping well, other hormones that control appetite like ghrelin and leptin become out of balance and further increase your appetite. It’s not needed to say, increased appetite causes you to eat more and weight gain is the result.


Note: Studies reveal that people who have higher levels of BMI have higher levels of cortisol and a higher waistline. Abdominal fat is linked to greater health risks than fat stored around the body.            

There may be yet another answer you may want to know…


Why Do We Crave For Unhealthy Foods When Stressed?

When we are stressed out, we are most likely to forego healthy foods in favour of fast foods. The body demands a reward during stressful times. It tends to rely on fast foods because they are called comfort foods which can make you temporarily feel better by providing your brain with a boost of the neurotransmitter, serotonin (the happy hormone). You don’t crave for vegetable salads or fruits at times of stress because these aren’t the foods that typically release pleasure chemicals that relieve stress. What this conveys is stress can impact our body physiologically and psychologically.


How are you feeling after reading this blog? If you feel relaxed, then you are good to go and if you are feeling stressed out and want to have a cupcake, I’ll say you’d be cheating yourself and not me. Just kidding…


Well, don’t become a victim in the battle of stress dealing, manage it efficiently and pay attention to healthy food habits…you’ll on your way to weight loss goals soon…                    



Also read: Deep breathing exercises for effective stress relief

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