As much as we detest it, stress is a part of all our lives. Despite regular exercise and a balanced diet, chronic stress can not only prevent weight loss, but also increase weight. Stress causes us to indulge in food. In a specific study, psycho-social stress, anxiety and depression were associated with weight gain among men and women with higher body mass indexes. Awareness about this connection can help obese patients avoid gaining further weight during stressful periods.1
When stressed, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which signals the body to replenish its energy even if you haven’t burnt any calories. This causes hunger, resulting in the person eating more food. The body continues releasing cortisol as long as the stress exists. This can turn overeating into a habit. Fatty and sugary foods are usually the first options since most people love them. Some research show that as a stress-coping behavior, women are more likely indulge in food while men indulge in alcohol or smoking. 2
On the downside, cortisol makes the body store fat, especially visceral fat. Cortisol causes fat storage and weight gain in stressed individuals. Higher levels of cortisol in the deep fat cells surrounding the abdomen may lead to obesity due to greater amounts of cortisol being produced at the tissue level.3 This is bad for health as it surrounds vital organs and releases fatty acids into your blood, raising cholesterol and insulin levels, which cause heart disease and diabetes. Here are simple methods to lose the weight gained due to stress.
Exercise is an effective and instant stress reliever. It makes the body think that you’re avoiding the source of the stress. Exercises improve blood circulation and quickly transport the cortisol to the kidneys, which then flushes it out of the body. Simple exercises like push-ups, squats or just flexing your hand and leg muscles will help move cortisol.
2. Eat Slowly
When stressed, people not only overeat, but also gobble down food faster than usual. This behavior is linked to bigger portions and more belly fat. The trick is to eat slowly, savoring each bite, and focusing on the health aspect of the food may reduce cortisol levels. This, in turn, decreases the amount of food we eat, improves metabolism and prevents fat accumulation.
3. Control Cravings
Stress makes you want to eat something sweet or salty. This is a normal feeling, and it is fine to give the body what it asks for. But, a little restraint can do a world of good here. It is important to ensure that we don’t indulge. Instead of eating a whole bar of chocolate, eat just half of it. Or, if it’s a bag of salty wafers, eat just a few. Whatever your food craving is, keep it at a minimum.
4. Avoid Coffee
Many people reach for that cuppa whenever they are stressed. Ask any coffee lover how they feel after a cup of coffee when stressed, and they will tell you that it is a magical stress reliever. But, the truth is caffeine increases the cortisol levels. Instead, go for the decaf, which does not interfere with cortisol. Drinking 2-3 cups of coffee increases this hormone levels by a whopping 25%. Even lattes can cause a surge in cortisol levels. Since high cortisol levels lead to stress eating, quitting caffeine altogether maybe a good idea.
5. Eat Healthy
Here’s one that can tackle the problem at the root cause. Deficiencies in vitamin B and C, calcium, and magnesium causes stress. So, by consuming foods that are rich in these nutrients, we can combat stress. By fulfilling these deficiencies, stress and cortisol levels reduce, thereby bringing down the food cravings. Consuming fruit or fruit juices of oranges, grapefruit, or strawberries gives us ample vitamin C. Low-fat yogurt contains calcium and magnesium. Whole grain toast smeared with peanut butter will supply the required amount of vitamin B and fatty acids that can decrease the production of cortisol.
6. Sleep Well
The importance of sleep to our well-being and its role in preventing and curing diseases is well-known. Good quality sleep can relieve stress and add years to our life. In fact, sleeping is the most effective method to reduce stress. Sleeping for six hours or less each night is known to increase cortisol, appetite, and weight gain. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation is also reported to increase the levels of ghrelin, which is a hormone released in the gastrointestinal tract that increases hunger. However, this effect can be reversed by sleeping well for a few nights. Good sleep can bring all this back into balance and rejuvenate the body.
So, in order to lose the weight gained due to stress, it is better to address the stress before we combat weight. Since the root cause of the problem is stress, it is important to take measures that reduce stress. Eating healthy food, ample exercises, meditation, and sleeping well will go a long way in ensuring good mental and physical health.
|↑1||Block, Jason P., Yulei He, Alan M. Zaslavsky, Lin Ding, and John Z. Ayanian. “Psychosocial stress and change in weight among US adults.” American journal of epidemiology (2009): kwp104.|
|↑2||Why stress causes people to overeat. Harvard Health Publications. 2012.|
|↑3||Maglione-Garves, Christine A., Len Kravitz, and Suzanne Schneider. “Cortisol connection: Tips on managing stress and weight.” ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal 9, no. 5 (2005): 20-23.|