Stress is an often overlooked factor in dealing with your weight. Excessive eating, an unhealthy lifestyle, and lack of physical activity all play roles in weight gain.
But did you know that stress can also be a culprit for why you’re gaining extra pounds or unable to lose weight successfully?
There’s a misconception that those who suffer from stress are more likely to be thin because anxiety and depression lead them to lose their appetites, causing them to shed weight quickly. However, stress doesn’t always cause people to lose the desire for food. On the contrary, stress can cause people to eat even more than they normally would. Here are ways that stress affects your appetite and weight:
Release of stress hormones
Chronic stress can wreak havoc on both your emotional and physical health by causing depression, sleep deprivation, and anxiety.
Cortisol is a key hormone involved in the body’s response to both physical and emotional stress. It increases blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and suppresses the immune system. These play a part in your body’s fight-or-flight response which is essential for survival. Your hypothalamus directs the adrenal glands to secrete both cortisol and adrenaline.
Our bodies undergo a variety of hormonal changes when we experience stressful situations. It starts with a rush of adrenaline to help us battle the threat. We have a burst of energy and blood flow. However, once the adrenaline wears off, the “stress hormone” cortisol is left behind. And these high levels of cortisol result in an increase in appetite and changes in our normal digestion.
Emotional eating and “comfort food” cravings
Increased levels of cortisol also result in higher levels of insulin levels which cause your blood sugar to drop. And what happens next? You start to crave fatty, sugary foods.
The reasons we crave these foods are both biological and psychological. Because stress has a way of messing with our brain’s reward system, we start to think about foods that give us comfort. These cravings are most likely foods from our youth or better times when we weren’t obsessed with counting calories or fat content, leading us to processed and fast food. So not only are you more likely to crave junk food but you are also likely to eat more than you should.
And when we are left in this state of anxiety, we find ourselves mindlessly overeating. We are no longer focused on how much we have eaten, if we feel full, or even the taste of the food.
Changes in metabolism and fat storage
Stress temporarily increases your metabolism. But chronic stress will cause a dip in your metabolism due to the loss of calorie-burning muscle combined with your increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods. All this leads to an increase in body fat.
Furthermore, excessive stress affects where our bodies would normally store fat and results to higher levels of abdominal fat. Robert M. Sapolsky, Ph.D., a professor of biological sciences and neuroscience at Stanford University, says, “Continual stress leads to a constant state of excess cortisol production, which stimulates glucose production. This excess glucose then typically is converted into fat, ending up as stored fat.”