Unfortunately, whether we have problems at work or home, the stress may show up in more ways than one. Is there a bulge around the mid-section that wasn’t there before? Or are you wondering where these extra pounds are coming from? Well, stress could be one of the culprits. It plays a role in weight gain. While it can make us have less of an appetite at first, long-term “chronic” stress actually boosts our hunger. Stress can significantly impact the ability to maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent weight loss, whether it’s the result of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy stress-induced behaviors, or a combination of the two.
Most of us become overeaters when we feel a lot of pressure. This happens thanks to our fight-or-flight response. Once the body reaches a certain stress level, it does what it feels it needs to, and in most cases, that means overeating. Why? Because the body thinks it has used calories to deal with the stress, even though it hasn’t. As a result, it thinks it needs to replenish those calories, even though it does not.
Levels of “the stress hormone,” cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn our overeating into a habit. Increased levels of the hormone also cause insulin levels to spike, which drops the blood sugar, and we crave sugary fatty foods. So instead of a salad or a banana, we are more likely to reach for cookies or mac and cheese. That’s why they’re called “comfort foods.” Eating can be a source of solace and can lower our stress. This happens, in part, because the body releases chemicals in response to a food that might have a direct calming effect. Even if we aren’t eating foods high in fat and sugar, cortisol also slows down the metabolism, making it difficult to lose weight. In addition to the hormonal changes related to stress, stress can also drive us to engage in unhealthy behaviors, all of which can cause weight gain. Emotional eating, less exercising, skipping meals, and sleeping less can all contribute to weight gain.
So if you feel like you are doing “everything right” and are still struggling to lose those pesky pounds, just remember to take a breather and you will likely see results.