With our fast-paced, multitasking lives, stress is an everyday occurrence. Studies show that stress levels among Americans are a five-year high, thanks in part to all of the troubling news, a chaotic government and economic uncertainty.
Here’s how stress can affect your weight. Stress:
Ups your appetite and turns down your metabolism
When we experience stress, it stimulates the body’s fight or flight response. This causes a surge in the hormone cortisol, which stimulates hunger. The reason for this is because in truly dangerous situations, this response requires a large amount of energy to either run or fight for survival. When the stress becomes chronic, the body continues to have elevated levels of cortisol, which can lead to an increased appetite. Cortisol also slows down your metabolism to help preserve energy that the body thinks it needs to fight off the stressors, which can make it more difficult to lose weight.
Disrupts your sleep
Chronic stress can negatively impact the quality of your sleep and your total sleep hours. Reams of research now shows that sleeping at least 7 hours a night for most adults is essential to maintain a healthy body weight. Lack of sleep causes a spike in hunger hormones and lights up area of the brain that makes us crave high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar comfort foods (more on this below).
Causes you to crave comfort food
Studies have found that stressed individuals have a preference for foods that are higher in sugar and fat (3). You could be eating more calorie dense foods without realizing it. People who are stressed are also more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as spending more time watching TV or surfing social media, smoking, drinking, and stress eating. All that of these effects can sabotage weight loss efforts and lead to weight gain over time.
Healthier ways to cope with stress
When you’re feeling pressure mount, try one of these healthier ways to manage stress in your life.
Eat a nutrient dense diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Consciously including these foods in your diet will increase satiety and make it less likely that you will reach for those chocolate chip cookies or bag of chips. These foods are also lower in calories and naturally high in nutrients and antioxidants to help your body heal from the effects of stress.
Exercise. Physical activity is a great way to blow off some steam, getting your body moving, and burn calories. Go for a jog or find a workout that you enjoy. Turn up the volume on your favorite song and dance!
Spending time with loved ones. When was the last time you had a family dinner? Have everyone get together and enjoy a healthy meal or go for a walk with a loved one.
Try meditation or yoga. Deep breathing is great for stress relief. Find a few minutes to focus on your breathing or do yoga to get the additional benefits of moving your body.
This article was by Rita K. Saeed, a dietetic intern with Appetite for Health.
- American Psychological Association. Stress in American: the state of our nation.https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf. Released November 5, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2018.
- American Psychological Association. Stress in America: paying with our health.https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2014/stress-report.pdf. Published February 4, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2015.
- Psychosocial stress is positively associated with body mass index gain over 5 years: evidence from the longitudinal AusDiab study. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23512679
- Psychosocial stress and change in weight among US adults. Am J Epidemiol. Link: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19465744