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Stress and Weight Gain: How Stress Can Affect Your Weight

Can Stress Make You Fat?

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Updated May 23, 2014

Kamata, Tokyo, Japan.
Ryoko Uyama/Taxi Japan/Getty Images
There are several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. One has to do with cortisol, a stress hormone. When we’re under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies, leading to the release of various hormones.

Whether we're stressed because of constant, crazy demands at work or we're really in danger, our bodies respond like we're about to be harmed and need to fight for our lives (or run like heck). To answer this need, we experience a burst of energy, shifts in metabolism and blood flow, and other changes.

If you remain in this state for a prolonged amount of time due to chronic stress, your health becomes at risk. Aside from a host of other dangers, chronic stress can also cause weight gain -- which is why some products like Cortislim are marketed as diet aids.

Chronic stress and cortisol can contribute to weight gain in the following ways:

    Metabolism -- Do you feel like you're prone to putting on more weight when you're stressed, even if you're eating the same amount of food as you always have? Too much cortisol can slow your metabolism, causing more weight gain than you would normally experience. This also makes dieting more difficult.

    Cravings -- OK, you're stressed. Do you reach for a nice salad or a pint of Ben & Jerry's? I'll bet on the latter. People experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more fatty, salty and sugary foods. This includes sweets, processed food and other things that aren’t as good for you. These foods are typically less healthy and lead to increased weight gain.

    Blood Sugar -- Prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings, fatigue, and conditions like hyperglycemia. Too much stress has even been linked to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of health concerns that can lead to greater health problems, like heart attacks and diabetes.

    Fat Storage -- Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress are linked to greater levels of abdominal fat. Unfortunately, abdominal fat is not only aesthetically undesirable, it’s linked with greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body.

Stress and weight gain are connected in other ways:

    Emotional Eating -- Increased levels of cortisol can not only make you crave unhealthy food, but excess nervous energy can often cause you to eat more than you normally would. How many times have you found yourself scouring the kitchen for a snack, or absently munching on junk food when you’re stressed, but not really hungry? More on what causes emotional eating.

    Fast Food -- Experts believe that one of the big reasons we’re seeing more obesity in our society these days is that people are too stressed and busy to make healthy dinners at home, often opting to get fast food a the nearest drive-thru instead.

    Too Busy to Exercise -- With all the demands on your schedule, exercise may be one of the last things on your to-do list. If so, you’re not alone. Americans live a more sedentary lifestyle than we have in past generations, yet our minds seem to be racing from everything we have to do. Unfortunately, from sitting in traffic, clocking hours at our desks, and plopping in front of the TV in exhaustion at the end of the day, exercise often goes by the wayside.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to reverse the pattern of weight gain and actually reduce your stress level and waistline at the same time.

Sources:

Stress System Malfunction Could Lead To Serious, Life-Threatening Disease. NIH Backgrounder September 9, 2002.

Teitelbaum, Jacob, M.D. How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight. Total Health Vol 25. no. 5. Oct/Nov 2003.

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