The word ‘stress’ is commonly thrown about in our daily conversations, but most of us do not realize how harmful stress can be for the body and mind. We feel stressed when a situation becomes too much to handle, and this makes it difficult to function normally. In our daily lives, we face thousands of challenges that make us stressed out.
Stress hampers the natural physical order. When our body stops working in its natural harmony, bodily functions are not carried out the way they are meant to be. Hence, necessary chemical reactions do not work the way they should.
Can stress cause weight gain? Our hormones and metabolism are affected by stress, which affects our body’s food requirements and how that food is processed. This is how weight gain can become one of the numerous physical side effects of stress. Stress-induced weight gain might be difficult to handle, but the right strategies can help you manage both stress and your weight.
Why You Crave Comfort Food When You’re Stressed
Stress puts your body into chaos, and in that chaos, both your body and mind look for some relief. Comfort food gives temporary relief, but at what cost? Let’s take a look at some of the stress-related issues that our body faces that make us crave comfort food.
High Cortisol Levels
When we face a high-stress situation, our body releases two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Stressful situations cause worry, fear, and anxiety in our minds, which immediately makes our bodies think we are in trouble. Our body can not differentiate between different kinds of stress or how much physical danger is actually present.
Even when the situation is not likely to cause physical harm, your body can go into a fight or flight state. When those two hormones are released, the body sends glucose into the blood to provide the energy to deal with the perceived danger.
Once the stress level decreases, the adrenaline rush wears off, and the blood sugar level depletes. That drop in sugar causes cortisol to create a sugar craving even though it is not necessary. As a reaction to this, we reach for the sugary snacks that cause us to gain weight.
Wanting to Feel Better
A stressful situation makes us want to feel better quickly. This is another reason why we crave sugary, comfort food during and after high-stress situations. To understand why that happens, we must first take a look at what sugar does to our brain.
We have all heard the phrase “sugar high.” Our brains have been conditioned to believe that sugary food is beneficial since it provides quick energy. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released in our system, and we feel happy. Knowing that sugar gives us this happy, content feeling, we crave it even more.
When a person craves sweetness during and after a stressful situation, they might naturally want a sugary treat that is loaded with not only sugar but other stimulators, including chocolate and coffee. Alongside dopamine, those two also give us serotonin, another neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy.
Stress And Metabolism
High cortisol levels cause problems with your metabolism. Being under constant stress can slow down your metabolic rate, meaning you will burn fewer calories than you would normally. For example, if you are stressed out, cortisol is trying to protect you from danger by burning fewer calories and storing more for later.
Cortisol also affects your blood insulin level. When insulin levels are high, you tend to convert the sugar to fat and store it in your body. This is why a stressed-out body will store fat in the abdomen/belly region. By messing with your metabolism, cortisol causes you to gain more fat.
The Importance of Sleep and Exercise for Stress Management
To avoid weight gain, stress management is a necessity. Relaxation, meditation, and counseling are often recommended to help; however, some basic lifestyle changes can help people manage and handle stress. Two common factors that affect stress are sleep and exercise. Let’s take a look at how we can use these two to manage stress better.
Sleep and Stress
Stress and anxiety often make us lose sleep. It is difficult to sleep when you are worrying and overthinking.
Overthinking and excessive nervous energy can keep us up and even disrupt the quality of sleep we get. Insomnia is a common side effect of stress. However, a proper amount of sleep each night can actually help manage stress better.
People who are sleep-deprived for months or even years can face some serious health issues. Those who get less than seven hours of sleep every day find it more difficult to manage stress.
When people do not get enough sleep, they wake up feeling low, irritated, and even depressed. Sleep has a massive effect on mood, and when a person is already feeling upset, stress will cause them to become more irritable and impatient. A well-rested person who is in a better mood will handle stressful situations a lot better.
Exercise and Stress
We are conditioned to remain active. But the modern lifestyle is extremely sedentary. These days we have to use our brains more than our bodies, and hence, our metabolism gets dysfunctional, and we put on weight.
If you want to live healthily, you need at least some physical activities. Exercise does not only help you lose weight but also acts as an exceptional stress reliever. Any form of exercise will help you manage stress better.
When we are stressed, we are often angry or frustrated. Exercise helps you blow off steam and release those toxic thoughts and feelings. It gives you a distraction, a break from your daily stressors.
When you are physically active, a sense of overall well-being takes over. Your entire body is engaged in the activity, and it gets your blood pumping. Your body releases endorphins into your system, the neurotransmitter that uplifts your mood. It also balances your cortisol levels and keeps your body healthy.
Tips for Preventing Stress-Fueled Weight Gain
Our lives are busy and our schedules are always packed, but we must make time to reduce stress and to prevent stress-fueled weight gain. For this, we must take some measures and gain control over our lives. Let’s take a look at the following tips that can help us prevent unnecessary weight gain due to stress.
We often get carried away with our lives, wasting time doing and thinking about what is not important.
For example, you might think that you do not have enough time for exercise and sleep. But think about the amount of time you waste on social media or binge-watching shows. If you let go of some of those unhealthy habits and prioritize your health and well-being, you will live a healthier life and prevent unnecessary weight gain.
Prioritize your work but also your well-being. If you take care of yourself, your body will become less likely to break down. Know when to slow down and reorganize your body and mind. When you feel like you are inching towards burnout, take a break.
Remember that if your work is a priority, so is getting enough sleep and exercise. Make sure you get at least seven hours of sleep. Any form of exercise helps, from yoga to weightlifting.
Stress is a modern problem, and it requires advanced solutions. Make yourself organized and efficient, and breeze through sticky situations. Suppose you want to eat healthy every day, but don’t have time to cook on weekdays. Prepare all your meals and freeze them in portions so you can thaw and eat them throughout the week.
Don’t have enough time to exercise? Go for a jog after work or walk for some part of the way home. Buy small weights and keep them at your office. Walk around instead of always staying seated. Take up an active, stress-relieving yet fun activity like tennis or gardening.
If you have work, avoid staying up at night and wake up early instead. You are less likely to eat more calorie bombs when you are well-rested. Keep healthy snacks at your desk like nuts and dry food instead of going for a donut run.
Love Your Body
If you have gained weight due to stress, chances are that you have a poor body image. Most people do. Sometimes, even a physically fit person hates their body. Learn to love your body. Having a healthy body image is important.
Remember if you give your body love, it will also become less prone to breaking. Loving your body means not causing it harm. Avoid drinking too much alcohol or coffee. Instead of snacking on takeout and fast food, commit to eating healthy, balanced, home-cooked meals.
Poor body image also causes stress. If you hate the way you look and feel bad when you look in the mirror, it will make you feel upset, anxious, and stressed out. Eating the right food and getting enough exercise can prevent weight gain. Love your body by eating healthy and getting enough exercise, and see how rewarding it can be.
Recognize what you can appreciate in your life
We often get sidetracked by what is going wrong in life and only focus on the problems. We forget all the things we do have. Every person on earth has something to appreciate and be thankful for, and it is necessary to focus on that.
When you feel lost and everything seems out of control, take a deep breath and reflect on your life. Think about all the blessings you have. It can be something as minuscule as having eyes to see. Appreciate all that is good in life and trust that the problems will be handled. It will give you a more positive outlook and instead of finding your glass half empty, you will see it’s half full.
Think Before You Snack
You are watching your favorite show late at night, and you start craving something sweet or salty. You automatically reach for the jar of cookies or the bag of chips, without sparing a thought about all the unhealthy junk you put into your body.
Stop and think about what you are eating. Check the label and see how many calories you are consuming. Avoid snacking, especially at night. If you must snack, eat healthy food like fruits, nuts, etc.
Be aware of what you are eating. Most snacks are loaded with refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients.
After having three full meals, if you snack mindlessly, just because you are bored or unhappy, you will gain weight. Instead of doing that to your body, always think twice before going for a snack.
Take a Walk
When we feel stressed, upset, and empty, we tend to reach for comfort food. Whether it is donuts, fries, a hamburger, or those calorie-loaded coffee shop lattes, we all have our vices. Instead of eating away your unhappiness and stress, take a walk.
Being alone with your thoughts, you can reflect on the stressors you have in your life. Think about whether that desire to eat is coming from.
Is it because you are hungry, or are you just sad and bored? It is important to remember that eating is not an activity you want to partake in just because you are bored. Stop walking once your desire to snack dies down.
Conclusion – Does Stress Cause Weight Gains?
Stress is very likely to cause weight gain. It disrupts our bodily functions. It also causes unhealthy habits like eating comfort food or staying up late, which makes us even more physically dysfunctional.
By taking preventive measures to manage stress and get enough sleep and exercise, you can avoid stress-fueled weight gain.
My name is Deborah Foster and I am a Weight Loss Coach with a background in Nutrition Coaching and Personal Training. I specialize in helping women and men break through the yo-yo diet cycle and lose weight for good, without being miserable in the process.