The Major Reasons Why Stress Causes Weight Gain & Strategies To Cope
Are you worried and stressed and trying to lose weight?
Have you ever tried to motivate yourself to lose weight with stress or worry?
Do you make yourself desperate to lose weight quickly, setting unrealistic expectations?
Do you threaten yourself, saying things like "If I don't lose ten pounds before the reunion, I won't go," or "I'll never get anywhere until I lose weight."
Do you worry about your weight all the time and constantly ask, "Why can't I lose weight?"
Do you beat yourself up feeling fat and miserable as you hop from one deprivation based diet plan to another?
I have an important question for you...
Has all this stress and worry helped you lose weight? It never did me.
The Skinny on Stress and Weight Loss
Did you ever stop to think that maybe all the stress and worry was actually contributing to your inability to lose weight?
Just think about all the unhealthy behaviors you have engaged in during times of stress:
- Mindlessly eating a tub of Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the end of a long hard day at the office.
- Gobbling a burger and fries in front of your computer as you furiously try to make a work deadline.
- Eating cookies in your car as you shuttle the kids to and from their daily round of extracurricular activities.
In this video, Dr. Berg explains the link between stress and fat:
Stress and worry and their associated hormones - such as cortisol - cause weight gain, not weight loss. So, if you are trying to lose weight but are stressed out about it, you are working against yourself.
Stress that goes on for long periods is a triple whammy for weight because it increases our appetites, makes us hold onto the fat, and interferes with our willpower to implement a healthy lifestyle.
They actually help control many hormonal cycles and functions in our body.
When the adrenal glands are overworked, the body prepares for disaster, by storing fat and calories.
We crave foods, we lose precious energy, and we gain weight.
So how can we keep the heavier stress load from equaling heavier bodies?
Below are the major reasons stress causes weight gain and four strategies you can use to cope.
Why Stress Causes Weight Gain And What To Do About It
When your brain detects the presence of a threat, whether it's a hungry bear, a demanding boss, or a bill collector, your adrenal glands secrete hormones in response to the perceived stress, preparing you to handle the threat by "fight or flight." Then cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," signals the body to replenish your food supply.
Fighting off wild animals, like our ancestors did, used up a lot of energy that required refueling.
Unfortunately even though most of our modern stressors are mental rather than physical, we are stuck with a neuroendocrine system that is still telling you to reach for that plate of doughnuts.
In the days when our ancestors were fighting off tigers and famine, their bodies adapted by learning to store fat supplies for when food was scarce.
Unfortunately, when we are chronically stressed, we are prone to adding an extra layer of "visceral fat" deep in our bellies, which is unhealthy and difficult to get rid of. This fat releases chemicals triggering inflammation, which increases the chances that we will develop heart disease or diabetes.
And it can make it more difficult to fit into the skinny jeans you splurged on!
And to add insult to injury, excess cortisol also slows down your metabolism, making sure you have enough to deal with any impending perceived threats.
We go through periods of time in our lives when the demands are greater and the stress load is heavier. Regardless of the reasons – illness, relationship difficulties, work struggles, caring for an aging parent or ailing child – there can be a physical impact.
We may turn to food for comfort. Anxiety can trigger "emotional eating," overeating or eating unhealthy foods in response to stress or as a way to calm down. Or we may not nourish ourselves adequately.
Cravings and Fast Food
When we are chronically stressed, we crave "comfort foods," like french fries, cookies, chips and ice cream. Foods that are easy to eat, highly processed, and high in fat, sugar, or salt. Or that remind us of childhood.
When we are stressed, we are also more likely to drive through the Fast Food place, rather than taking the time and mental energy to plan and cook a meal.
Lack of Sleep
Sleep is a powerful factor influencing weight gain. Lack of sleep may disrupt the functioning of chemicals that control appetite and increase cravings for carbohydrates, and erodes our willpower and ability to resist temptation.
In one study, overweight/obese dieters were asked to follow a fixed-calorie diet and assigned to get either 5-and-a-half or eight-and-a-half hours of sleep a night (in a sleep lab). Those with sleep deprivation lost substantially less weight.
The helpful video describes how stress affects your brain:
How to Minimize Weight Gain When You're Stressed
Aerobic exercise provides many benefits. It can decrease cortisol and trigger release of chemicals that relieve pain and improve mood. It can help speed your metabolism so you burn off the extra indulgences. And can increase the likeliness that you will sleep better.
If you don't regularly exercise, try walking 15 minutes once or twice a day after meals, outside in fresh air and notice how much better you feel.
- The Best Exercise for Weight Loss It's Not What You Think
- To Lose Weight and Feel Great Turn Exercise Into Play
- Why Yoga is the Best Exercise for Weight Watchers
Find Rewarding Activities Unrelated to Food
Taking a hike, watching a movie, reading a book, going to a yoga class, getting a massage, playing with your dog, or making time for friends and family can help to relieve stress without adding on the pounds.
Although you may feel that you don’t have time for leisure activities, taking time to relieve stress helps you to feel refreshed, lets you think more clearly, and improves your mood, so you are less likely to overeat.
Don't forget that having fun, laughing, and enjoying your time is a very important way to relax!
We all need to make having fun a priority, the benefits are amazing!
Write in a Journal
Writing down your experiences and reactions or your most important goals keeps your hands busy and your mind occupied, so you're less likely to snack on unhealthy foods.
Writing can give you insight into why you're feeling so stressed and highlight ways of thinking or expectations of yourself that may be increasing the pressure you feel.
Writing down your healthy eating and exercise goals may make you more conscious of your desire to live a healthier lifestyle and intensify your commitment.
Research studies have also shown that writing expressively or about life goals can improve both mood and health.
What you eat matters.
Although it sounds ironic, if you want your body to believe that it is not in danger of starving to death, you need to eat healthy food at regular intervals.
It may be easy to reach for sweets and caffeine for quick energy, but these actually backfire on us, dropping our blood sugar levels rapidly.
Reaching for nutrient-rich foods, such as lean protein, avocado, fresh fruits and vegetable, garlic, and ginger will more adequately support adrenal functioning.
Improve Your Sleep
Develop relaxing rituals. Turn off all technology including television, by 8 p.m., and try to be in bed and asleep by 10 p.m.
The goal is to have at least eight hours of sleep, so our bodies can rest and regulate our hormonal cycles.
Deep breaths in and out of your nose can not only slow your heart rate down, but will calm your entire body.
Sometimes when we are under stress our breathing becomes shallow, and fast. It only takes three or four deep breaths to feel better.
Try to remember that slowing down our breath, as well as our life, even for a few minutes, can make a big difference in reducing your stress level.
Just Let It All Go
It isn't always easy to let things go. We put pressure on ourselves to meet the demands in our lives, to take care of others, to do well in our endeavors, and to make everyone around us happy.
But when we forget about ourselves in that equation, the stress will appear as extra pounds, or other things that impede our health and our functioning.
When we live with continually elevated levels of stress, our body adjusts to the "crisis mode" and sometimes needs help learning how to live in a calmer state.
Stop worrying and obsessing about how you look, how much you weigh, or everything you eat.
Calm down, eat in a healthy balanced way and focus on taking care of yourself.
When you accept what is, relax about it and focus on what you want in a positive way - without all the drama, worry, stress, punishment, and deprivation - your body relaxes and you can create a stress-less environment where weight loss can occur.
More Articles About Stress, Relaxation & Weight Loss
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