Stress is present in daily life. Some would say it is unavoidable. It can cause many different kinds of health issues as well as affect your weight. But what exactly is the relationship between stress and weight gain?
Stress can be defined as any forces from the outside world that affects the individual. While stress can help you to learn and grow, more often it causes you anxiety and frustration. Stressors are specifically defined by each individual. What may cause some to stress out, might be taken in stride by others.
Your Body's Response to Stress
Stress causes an actual physical response in your body. When a threat is perceived, real or imagined, the body has an automatic defense mechanism. This is often called the "fight or flight" response. It is your body's way of protecting you. When this happens, adrenaline and cortisol are released in your bloodstream. Your breathing becomes rapid. Blood is redirected away from your digestive track and sent to your muscles and limbs. Your impulses quicken, your pupils dilate. Excess of the hormone cortisol is secreted. All of these physical reactions are the primitive way your body prepares to meet the perceived threat head on.
Impact of Cortisol
Cortisol is present in your bloodstream at all times. It helps to maintain blood pressure and provide energy for the body. Cortisol stimulates the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates for energy in the body. It also stimulates insulin release for maintenance of blood sugar levels. As a result, it can also cause an increase in appetite in order to maintain your energy and insulin levels. During times of stress, when excess cortisol is secreted, normal patterns of cortisol levels are disrupted. On average, levels are highest in the early morning and lowest at night. The disruption of this pattern can promote weight gain also. Cortisol can mix up your hunger signals and cause you to eat high fat, simple carbohydrate foods that the body can convert to energy. These calories were easily burned off back in ancient times, when everyday life involved more physical activities (hunting for food, farming, etc...) Today, most stress is caused by busy schedules and money woes. As a result, you probably aren't burning off those extra calories in times of stress.
Eating more calories than you burn off causes weight gain. The goal is to find a balance between healthy eating and exercise, which increases your metabolism of the calories. Many people have emotional triggers when it comes to unhealthy eating. Bad news can send you to the drive thru. For a short time, the enjoyment of having a greasy burger and fries helps you to feel better. This feeling subsides when you realize all of the unwanted calories you consumed. But by then it is too late. This can be the beginning of a viscious cycle. Depression from overeating that leads to more overeating in an effort to feel good. In this way, stress and/or unhappiness can directly relate to gaining unwanted pounds