Stress is an uncomfortable feeling of tension/discomfort that occurs with an event/situation or a thought, disturbing the physical and mental wellbeing of a person. Chronic or long-term continuous stress is one that we shall be discussing.
What Happens When the Body is Subjected to Continuous Stress?
There is the release of Cortisol – the stress hormone, whenever the body and mind are subjected to some form of stress regularly and continuously. This stress hormone i.e. Cortisol is normally required by the body in normal quantity as it is responsible for a lot of metabolic functions.
BUT, when it is secreted in excess as a response to stress, it causes many detrimental effects in the body like high Blood pressure, weight gain and water retention, abnormal blood glucose levels, excess fat storage, etc. and increases the risk of heart problems, stroke, diabetes etc.
How Stress Causes Weight Gain?
The stress hormone, Cortisol leads to weight gain in both men and women, when in excess.
Cortisol and adrenaline are produced by the adrenal gland (small triangular glands situated above the kidneys), which are released into the bloodstream of the body when stress is experienced. Both these hormones are usually produced when faced with a stressful situation, to provide energy that helps a person to either fight it out or run away from the stressful situation. Adrenalin is produced predominantly in acute/short-term situations while cortisol is produced in long-term continuous stressful situations. To put it simply – Constant stress increases the levels of cortisol in the body which stimulates the pancreas to release insulin hormone in the body.
Increased insulin levels cause fat storage and a drop in blood sugar levels that make you crave sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods and increase your appetite. So when you are under constant stress, there is an increase in the number of fat cells in the body which get deposited as extra fat resulting in weight gain. Overeating due to an increase in appetite also accumulates extra energy in the body leading to weight gain.
Excess Cortisol also causes Insulin resistance which leads to a vicious cycle ending in abnormal weight gain and abnormal blood sugar levels. Stress can also cause mood changes like depression and anxiety, which may lead to overeating, poor eating habits, and a sedentary lifestyle, resulting in weight gain.
Unhealthy Habits that Can be Developed During Stress
- Stress can cause unhealthy habits in a person which can lead to weight gain.
- Craving for unhealthy foods high in fats and sugars makes you eat more than you need.
- Eating fast foods and comfort foods like French fries, pizzas, and pasta, for instant energy can lead to cause extra fat deposition.
- Excess consumption of alcoholic beverages and sugary beverages provide extra calories.
- A sedentary lifestyle, wherein you move less, less physical activity at work and lack of exercise leads to decreased energy expenditure and accumulation of fats in the body.
- Lack of sleep during stress has an adverse effect on the body and interferes with mood, concentration, and weight.
Can Weight Gain Caused by Stress be Managed?
Yes. Weight gain can be managed by using simple and effective ways to control weight and get back to a normal healthy weight. All you need is commitment and a strong desire to stay healthy and happy.
Natural Ways to Manage Stress-Induced Weight Gain
- Removal of the root cause/stressor – If stress is causing weight gain and the stress can’t be avoided, change the way you react to it. React less, if you can’t change the situation anyway. Remaining calm will not lead to elevated stress hormone levels.
- Activity / Exercise is the best method for lowering the levels of the stress hormone, Cortisol which usually is increased, in response to stress. Exercise and regular physical activity help to burn the extra calories and to reduce weight gain. It also elevates mood and keeps you happy.
- Yoga and meditation are useful to relax the body and the mind and help to keep the hormones under check.
- Healthy eating habits like eating on time, eating healthy foods, eating foods with fewer sugars, and taking low-calorie foods, can help lose weight.
- Decrease stressful thinking by learning to relax the mind with simple ways such as listening to music, reading interesting books, maintaining healthy relationships with others can all help to avoid stress-related weight gain.
- Sleeping adequately for 7-8 hours every day and having good quality sleep helps balance hormones and reduce weight.
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