It's no secret that a stressful lifestyle is not a healthy one. When we've got a million things on our mind, it's hard to find time to think about what you eat and to figure out time to exercise. But besides our tendency towards poor choices, why does stress make us gain weight and how can we stop it before it becomes a habit?
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Stress can lead us to do a number of things that we normally wouldn't when we're not under pressure. One of these things may be eating anything in sight or relying on fast food because we just don't have the time. But stress-related weight gain has many other scientific causes than just a lack of time. One of them has to do with hormones. When the body is under stress, your hormonal checks and balances are also thrown off, which may lead to lean on food for emotional support.
How does this hormonal imbalance work? Cortisol, or as some call it 'the stress hormone', is a critical hormone in our bodies which controls our energy levels, how much insulin is released and maintains our blood sugar levels, all leading to an eventual increase in appetite. Yet when cortisol is in excess during times of physical or psychological stress, the normal patterns of cortisol secretion, which are usually in the early morning and at night, can be altered. The disruption of the cortisol secretion may be what cause you to put on pounds when you're stressed.
The act of playing around with your hormones has more serious consequences for your nutrition and fitness regimen than you may think. By changing the pattern of cortisol secretion in your system, you are slowing down your metabolism, or the rate at which you are able to process foods and digest them. With all the excess cortisol and adrenaline in your system, your body is unable to burn calories, fats and sugars like it usually would. Instead, it stores them around your abdomen and hips for times when the body isn't as stressed and has the energy to process them.
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Other crucial hormones in the digestive process that are affected when one is stressed are ghrelin and leptin. These are the hormones responsible for making you feel hungry and full, respectively. When you are stressed, your body suppresses the leptin levels and increases the ghrelin levels, meaning that you are less likely to feel full and more likely to feel like a bottomless pit. This causes you to take in far more calories than you regularly would or than your body needs, making you pile on the pounds without even noticing.
But chronic stress doesn't just make you feel constantly hungry, it also makes you want to eat foods that are high in sugar and fat. This is because stress is triggering intense cravings, causing you to reach for unhealthy foods like chips and chocolate, which in turn make you gain weight. When you eat these foods, you are injected with feel-good hormones that momentarily pacify your stress, creating a response that you may try to replicate later once you are feeling stressed. Instead, try to make a conscious effort of avoiding these foods and your body won't crave them. It's as simple as that!
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Yet another effect of the hormonal imbalance in your system as a result of stress are serious consequences for your blood sugar levels. For some, this could be a very serious issue, especially if you have diabetes or are at risk. This is because when the body is under stress it is unable to regulate your levels of insulin. The result will be extra fat stored in the body and a tendency to seek out sugary and fatty foods. As a result of unstable hormonal levels, the fat will usually go right to your abdomen and hips, which can be a discouraging sign for those that are trying to maintain their weight.
If you are concerned about your weight, or have been trying to lose weight for some time, you might need to consider that a stressful lifestyle may be holding you back from fulfilling your goals. Look for ways that you can reduce stress in your life and you'll be amazed with how quickly the weight melts off and your general health improves.