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Eight Ways Stress Can Lead to Weight Gain

Eight Ways Stress Can Lead to Weight Gain

Your body is not made for stress that occurs day after day, also called chronic stress. Stress affects you both biologically and emotionally, and your body tries to defend itself.

When you’ve got work, family, financial, or social issues nagging at you constantly, your eating, sleeping, and exercise habits suffer. Even if you think you have it all together, stress can lead to weight gain.

Be aware of these eight ways in which stress affects you, and as a result, can lead to weight gain, so you can take steps to minimize the damage and make stress reduction your No. 1 priority.

1. Increased cortisol

Chronic stress increases production of a hormone in your body known as cortisol. Cortisol raises your hunger levels and encourages your body to store fat, in advance of the upcoming threat, because your body can’t tell if your stress is due to the danger of wild animals or unpaid bills. This disruption in your natural cortisol rhythms raises your blood sugar, reduces your ability to burn fat, and increases the rate at which you store fat.

2. Cravings for high-calorie foods

When you’re stressed, you reach for the foods that soothe you. Usually, this isn’t a kale salad, but fatty, high-calorie foods such as macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies. Your mind may crave these foods because they remind you of childhood — happier, less stressful times. The increased cortisol in your body may also make you crave fat and sugar so you have plenty of fuel for your “threats.”

3. No time to exercise

Stress can lead to the perception, or the reality, that you have no time to be physically active. It simply falls to the bottom of your priority list, or you just don’t have the motivation to hit the treadmill. When you cut back on physical activity, you burn fewer calories and weight starts to pile on.

4. Harder to plan healthy meals

Even if you manage to fight cravings for high-calorie foods, your mind is distracted, and it’s just harder to make healthy choices. You may miss your weekly grocery shopping trip and find your fridge bare, so you order takeout more often. Perhaps you arrive home exhausted and just can’t muster the energy to cook a healthy, wholesome meal. The extra calories from eating more processed foods catches up and causes you to gain weight.

5. Increased alcohol consumption

If you find that a glass, or two, of wine soothes your frenzied, stressed-out mind in the evening, you may be setting yourself up for weight gain. A glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or a mixed drink contains 125-200 calories each. If you have a drink or two every night, you’re adding up to 1,400 extra calories per week, which can pile on a pound every 2 ½ weeks. Consider other ways to self-soothe: Take a warm bath, get a massage, or call a friend.

6. Fewer social connections

Stress and anxiety can lead to social isolation. You may think you don’t feel like connecting with friends or family, but they’re your lifeline to a healthier body. They can help you talk through your stress and ease your worries. Research shows that social isolation promotes weight gain and obesity as you’re likely to expend fewer calories and increase food consumption. Call a friend, meet for a walk, and go to that gathering you’re avoiding. Get out and slim down.

7. Poor sleep

Stress can interfere with sleep quality, leading to temporary insomnia that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep once you do slumber. Missing out on the recommended 7-9 hours per night means you experience changes in hunger hormones, so you feel hungrier and have a harder time getting full. Plus, you may drag more during the day due to a lack of energy, meaning you burn fewer calories.

8. Meal skipping

Stress can cause you to forget to eat altogether. You may think this is a fast track to weight loss, but it often has the opposite effect. You end up with a slower metabolism and the urge to binge on unhealthy food when it’s put before you. Make a conscious effort to eat healthfully at regular intervals to keep your energy levels up and your metabolism stoked.

If you’d like to talk about ways to control stress and get to a healthier weight, use the online tool to book an appointment with me, or call my office in Marina Del Ray, California.