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Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Listen to “Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?”.

Most of us become overeaters when we’re under a lot of pressure. This happens because of our fight-or-flight response, a.k.a. survival mode. Once the body reaches a certain stress level, it does what it feels it needs to. In most cases, this means we overeat. 

In the short term, adrenaline caused by stress tends to make people feel less hungry. However, with chronic stress, adrenaline’s effects on appetite wear off, and cortisol forces the body to replenish your energy stores. For some people, this tends to result in weight gain.

Prolonged, chronic stress can also lead to hormonal changes that may further increase our appetites and cause us to crave higher-calorie comfort foods, such as ice cream, chips, and pizza.

By contrast, acute stress, which is shorter in duration, is more likely to make people lose their appetite. This happens as the brain directs resources away from normal bodily functions, such as eating, to the organ systems we need to survive the immediate challenges.

In a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, overweight volunteers exposed to stressful situations desired more desserts and snacks and ate more carbohydrates and fat when compared to normal-weight subjects exposed to the same stressful situations. 

“We believe that stress adds to the need for reward, and a person needs more food to get the same reward [during a stressful situation]”, says Femke Rutters, PhD, study co-author and researcher at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam. 

Here are some daily tweaks to help you beat stress-induced weight gain.

Make exercise a priority 

Exercise is vital for stress reduction and weight management. It can help you address both issues simultaneously, making it a critical component in warding off stress-related weight gain. Whether you go for a walk during your lunch break or you hit the gym after work, incorporating regular exercise into your routine will make a big difference to your life.

Be mindful about what you eat 

Paying attention to your eating habits can help you gain control over your food consumption. Mindful eating makes you aware of what’s on the menu, whenever and wherever you eat. 

Think about which foods nourish you and which foods help you stay healthy while also developing an appreciation of every meal, every mouthful, and every ingredient.

Incorporate stress-relief strategies into your daily life

Whether you enjoy yoga and meditation or find solace in reading a good book, incorporating stress relief strategies into your daily routine will help you to eliminate stress. Relaxing stress relief can even reduce your cortisol levels and help you manage your weight more effectively. 

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