Stress levels are on the rise and don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Many of us are stressed out due to family and professional responsibilities, often feeling guilty and torn between the two. Children and aging parents need us at home, while employers demand more work for less pay. We are constantly bombarded by Internet, television and radio advertisements and wired in 24/7 via Smartphone, email, texting, tweeting, Facebook, and other forms of social media outlets. Getting unplugged these days is no easy task.
Unfortunately, stress can play a significant role in weight gain. When we are under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies. Regardless of whether we’re stressed out by constant, overwhelming demands at work or we’re truly in danger, our bodies respond in the same way.
Two major stress hormones—cortisol and adrenaline—are released, resulting in a burst of energy, along with changes in metabolism and blood flow. If you remain in this state for a prolonged period due to chronic stress, you may experience health consequences, including a slowed metabolism, increased insulin levels, and ultimately, weight gain. This physiological scenario creates several challenges to dieting and maintaining a healthy body weight.
First, those experiencing chronic stress tend to crave processed and sugary foods, such as candy, cookies, cakes, chips, and other less-healthy food choices. Indeed, poor food choices and prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings and fatigue. High stress levels have been linked to the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance that may lead to heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes.
Second, chronic stress affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress hormones are linked to increased abdominal fat. Abdominal fat is not only difficult to shed, but it’s also associated with increased health risks compared to fat stored in other areas of the body.
Overwhelming stress can also lead to emotional eating, stuffing feelings and emotions down with food to manage stress rather than to fuel the body. Compulsive overeating can become a drug, easing the pain of facing difficult feelings, such as anger, resentment, fear, or sadness. Over time, however, this can lead to weight gain and low self-esteem, not to mention health problems. So, what’s the answer?
Fortunately, stress can be managed. The first step is acknowledging the impact stress has in your life. Then, you need to figure out what your primary stressors are. Maybe it’s your primary relationship, or your teenager’s tantrums, or your career. Perhaps, it’s all three. Therefore, you need to create a strategy for managing the stress in your life before it affects your waistline, and your health.
Consider the following simple strategies and find ways to incorporate them into your lifestyle:
Sleep well. Studies have shown that too little sleep can cause weight gain. If you can’t get seven or eight hours of sleep at night, try to squeeze in an afternoon nap.
Keep a food journal. Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how you felt at the time. Seeing your daily intake in black and white often reveals problem areas.
Exercise often. Short, high-intensity workouts boost your metabolism and keep burning calories long after your workout is over. Skip the elevator at work and run up that flight of stairs.
Get off the couch. If you’re glued to the screen, get up during TV commercials and do 10 push-ups and 10 jumping jacks. Wear a pedometer and strive to increase the number of steps you take daily.
Find support. Whether you join a weight loss program, post on an online forum, or find a workout buddy, studies show that those who seek support lose more weight than those who try to do it alone.
The good news is that you can learn to manage stress in healthy ways. Give it a try.