Weight Gain and Stress

Weight Gain and Stress

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It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be surprised that yes, there is a scientifically confirmed link between weight gain and stress. After all, the term “stress eating” needs to lead to something if it lasts too long.  That said, the connection between these two things goes beyond just eating a huge amount of ice cream after having a bad day.

The connection between weight gain and stress is a much deeper and complicated on than simply giving in to cravings in times of emotional discomfort.

The Struggle with the Weight Gain and Stress Connection

The link between weight gain and stress can be an immensely frustrating one.  As though we weren’t under enough strain from the unpleasant feelings and the situation causing them, it feels as though our bodies decide to kick us while we’re down.  This can make our circumstance feel as though it is far more out of control than it actually is.  It’s easy for a vicious cycle to begin. 

Weight Gain and Stress Can Be Chronic in a Busy Lifestyle

For many people stress is a fact of life in the modern world. Deadlines, juggling work and personal commitments, interruptions, rush hour traffic, conflict at home, or even the ringing of a phone are all familiar sources of stress. Although it is impossible to eliminate all strains from daily life, it is possible to control the effect that stress has on the mind and the body, including weight gain.

The first step is to inform yourself and understand the relationship between stress and weight gain.  Come to understand what happens in your body when you feel tense from the many different influences in your life. 

Cortisol – The Stress Hormone

Maybe you've already heard about cortisol. It's a hormone the body produces under tense situations. At least one recent fitness book has received quite a bit of attention by pointing out a potential link between high levels of cortisol and excess abdominal fat. Quite a lot of further research has confirmed that there can be a direct link between higher cortisol levels and the inclination toward lifestyle habits while under stress and weight gain.

This is difficult enough when it’s our lives that are causing us to experience the stressful feelings and outcomes.  That said, it can be even worse when we’re trying to lose weight for our health, and this becomes the cortisol trigger.

How Dieting Can Lead to Stress Causing Weight Gain

The theory is that strict dieting - which produces stress for most of us - increases cortisol levels. And for people who have dieted on and off again throughout life, they may end up looking more like "apples" than "pears" because of bigger waistlines that may be associated with high cortisol levels. Since higher cortisol levels tends to send some added weight to the middle as opposed to other parts of the body, this can become unhealthy over time.

The negative effect isn't all cosmetic. Real health risks accompany excess fat in the abdomen - like increased chances of developing diabetes and even heart disease. Therefore, it’s important to take the link between cortisol and weight gain seriously for your health as well as your self image.

Extreme Dieting Can Make It Worse

Whether the theoretical link between cortisol and excess abdominal fat is accurate remains to be conclusively proven in large scale research. What is known is that too much cortisol in the blood is also suspect when it comes to other health problems. A study published a few years ago demonstrated that women who constantly restrict food (that is, who constantly diet) have higher levels of cortisol, and the researchers speculate that this may spell bad news for bone health.

This means that when you take on a diet that is very difficult to keep up and that makes you feel strain over time, your body might be fighting in direct opposition to your goal.  While you’re working as hard as you can to try to burn fat, your body is releasing cortisol which makes it easier to store body fat but harder to burn it away.

Other studies suggest cortisol levels may be a predictor of fractures for older adults. This can mean that even though you’re trying to work on achieving a healthier body, you could be flooding your body with a hormone that will be hard on your health later in life.

Overcoming Stress and Weight Gain for a Healthy Body

Stress hormones aside, we also know that stress makes it harder for people to put their good intentions into action. It puts us on edge, sometimes making the least challenge something that causes us to mindlessly revert back to old, unhealthy habits.

Therefore, if your goal is to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, it’s time to move away from extremes.  Forget about dropping as many pounds as you can as quickly as possible. Instead, start a healthy, gradual approach to changing your body mass.  Instead of thinking of it as a short-term effort to reach a goal weight, change your perspective.

A long-term approach is far less stressful for many people.  Thinking about positive changes you can make for years to come can help you to avoid stress and weight gain. Instead of overhauling your life all at once, start adding healthy habits over time.  Allow yourself the time to adapt but make a habit of regularly adding new positive changes. 

One might be to walk every night after work.  Later, you might start tracking your nutrition with an app to gain a better understanding of your macronutrient balance and calorie intake.  You might try a new recipe every Saturday to discover new ways of preparing very healthy foods you wish you were eating more often. Leave the sugary cereal for the weekend and have overnight oats or a bowl of Greek yogurt with berries, almonds and seeds during the week.

All these changes can be made over time and can help you put the stress and weight gain link to a much sharper halt.

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