Stress is ubiquitous – it has become a normal part of everyday life. Any time multiple priorities compete for your attention, it is stressful and forces your brain to contemplate backup plans, failure, and if the stress is high enough … fight or flight.
In this article, we look at stress and some of the ways in which it may affect weight gain. There are several.
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Stress And Weight Gain Relationship
Fight or Flight
Stress is the initial response on a continuum that ends in fight or flight on the other end. This means that although we don’t usually think of stress as life-threatening, our metabolism and neurochemistry both do! And since we live in a world where neither fight nor flight is socially appropriate, we stifle our urge and funnel it into some other source of comfort – often food.
Although stress initially causes you to lose most of your appetite, long-term chronic stress can actually increase your hunger and result in over-eating. Herein lies the first connection between stress and weight gain.
Cortisol and Cookies
The release of cortisol is your body’s natural response to stress. Cortisol levels rise when we are feeling stressed out or facing those situations we least look forward to. Unfortunately, rising cortisol levels cause your insulin levels to spike, resulting in food cravings specifically for sugary fatty foods.
That’s why a salad isn’t considered a comfort food – a chocolate chunk cookie is. Stress raised your cortisol, which raised your insulin, which lowered your blood sugar, and made you crave junk food. You’re not imagining it – it really happens. The solution is simply to lower your stress and to recognize that craving as a trick.
Surpluses of cortisol can inhibit your body’s natural ability to produce testosterone, creating a rippling effect. Since testosterone is required for burning calories and for muscle growth, heightened cortisol levels can become a double whammy increasing weight gain even more.
As if this weren’t enough, stress also causes us to make worsening choices as we rush and struggle to rediscover calm and comfort. Stress causes us to rush, which in turn leads to even more choices that can be destructive to our health and fitness. For instance, the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to forget to drink water, go to the gym, or take your vitamins and supplements. Stress may also cause you to opt for fast food or to try an unproven fad diet – any of which can snowball to more weight gain (and more accompanying stress – the cycle.)
To spot these behaviors in yourself, try to be aware of emotional eating – the tendency to choose fatty foods and second portions. Before reaching for food, take a moment to rate your physical sensation of hunger and make a distinction between true hunger and “mental appetite”. The difference is simple:
- True Hunger is a physical sensation in the pit of your stomach. It is a grumbly, achy feeling that says “more energy please!”
- Mental Appetite is a thought that crosses our mind when we do not have the physical sensation of hunger in the pit of our stomach. It is when someone walks into the office with doughnuts! You weren’t even thinking about doughnuts and you have no physical sensation of hunger. But a doughnut “sounds good” – that is mental appetite.
If you can successfully recognize the difference between true hunger and mental appetite, you’re on your way to controlling stress eating and finally reducing your weight in a healthy, sustainable manner.
It is a lot to think about – we get it. If you have questions about stress and weight gain or any of the conditions discussed here, connecting with a doctor in a discrete setting has never been easier.
Opt Health is a telehealth platform that reconnects men with wellness, fitness, strength, and sexual vitality through scientific preventive medicine. From your own home, you can schedule with a physician, meet one-on-one via video conference, receive test results, and have medications delivered to your door.
For questions, inquiries, or appointments, don’t hesitate to contact us. Get personalized support and insight from top-tier physicians available 24/7.