Perhaps you've run into some financial trouble are aren’t sure how to get your budget under control. Maybe you just experienced a health scare and you’re worried about taking care of yourself. Or maybe one of your family members made some poor decisions that caused your family heartache. Regardless of the situation, you feel stressed, and you've watched the pounds rapidly pile on.
You've heard that stress contributes to weight gain, but you don't quite know how that works. You feel like you maintain your caloric intake, but you still struggle to get into your clothes every morning. Does stress really have that much of an effect on your body?
We'll tell you more about this phenomenon below—including how you can combat it and stay fit.
How Does Stress Make You Gain Weight?
As our species evolved, it developed a neuroendocrine system that transferred stress into a physiological response. The response activated a set of hormones that gave the body the biochemical strength it needed to overcome the stressor—whether that involved fighting or running away from a predator.
Modern human bodies still activate that response when they face a stressor—except that stressor often involves rush hour traffic, overdue bills, interpersonal struggles, etc. These stressors don't require you to burn calories. So when cortisol signals the body to replenish itself after the stress has passed, you feel ravenous without ever expending energy—and you may eat more without realizing it.
At the same time, the body's hormonal response to stress also increase its tendency to store visceral fat. This fat forms deep in your abdomen, pads your waistline, and increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes. And the more stressed you feel, the more your body wants to store fat overall.
How Do You Recognize Signs of Stress?
Stress wreaks havoc on any weight loss plan—and you might not even realize you feel stressed in the meantime. For some people, feeling stressed becomes so commonplace that it fades into the background, and they continue to gain weight without knowing why. If you think you might have this problem, look at the symptoms below.
Anxiety: How much time do you spend worrying? If you constantly feel anxious or frightened, your anxiety may stem from excess stress. Stress makes you emotionally as well as physically tired, so you'll become more sensitive to other stressors—hence the anxiety.
Irritability: As mentioned aobe, stress tires you emotionally, so you won't have as much patience for added responsibilities and issues. You'll feel irritable as a result.
Muscle Tension: Stress constricts the blood vessels in your body, leading to inflammation and tension. You'll feel sore and tight.
Comfort Food Cravings: Comfort foods contain a lot of carbohydrates, fats, and sugars. If you find yourself craving burgers, fries, cookies, and other junk foods, then you likely feel stressed. Your body craves these foods because they replenish energy more quickly. Unfortunately, these foods also lead to weight gain.
Inability to Sleep: Stress makes your body release adrenaline, which means your mind stays more awake at night. And the less sleep you get, the more stressed you feel, which creates an inconvenient and even dangerous cycle.
If you've experienced some or all of these symptoms, you likely feel stressed. Take a moment to find your stress's source, and see if you can't quickly resolve it to help your body return to equilibrium. However, if you have long-term problems, you'll have to use other strategies to chill and relax. We'll give you a few pointers in the next section.
How Do You Combat Stress?
If you would like to seize control of your body's stress response and keep your body healthy, have a look at the following tips:
Pinpoint your comfort foods and keep them out of your home or office. Stock your office with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy instead. Don't go out to eat either—when you go out, you may feel tempted to order a burger or a pot pie. If you do go out, remember to order something fresh and healthy.
Don't miss meals. If you miss meals, your body feels even hungrier, increasing your chances of overeating.
Ask yourself questions when you eat. Do you actually feel hungry, or do you want to eat because you need a distraction?
Exercise regularly. Go for a walk—or even better, go for a jog. Move around for at least 45 minutes each day. And if you come face to face with your stressor, exercise immediately afterward as well. You'll use up the hormones and energy your body gives you.
Find another way to relax, like yoga, meditation, or massage.
Go to bed on time, and use sleep aids if necessary. You can also try drinking unsweetened tea, hanging lavender fronds, or taking a bath before you sleep. These strategies should help you relax enough to fall unconscious.
Your doctor may have more tips for you if your stress arises from a specific condition or situation. And if you need additional information on losing or maintaining weight, check out the rest of our blog.