Is stress making you fat?

If you exercise regularly and eat healthy food but still find it hard to shift weight, we may have the answers you've been looking for...

Is stress making you fat?

If life often feels like an uphill struggle and no matter how hard you try you can't shift that extra tummy fat, stress could be the culprit...

Getting to grips with cortisol

When you're in a stressed out state, one of the ways that your body naturally deals with this is to release cortisol into your system, otherwise known as the stress hormone.

In every day situations, cortisol is important for the maintenance of blood pressure and the provision of energy in the body. However, in times of exertion and in situations where stress is heightened, the amount of cortisol increases.

'Cortisol has been termed the stress hormone because excess cortisol is secreted during times of physical or psychological stress', says Medicine Net

This disruption of cortisol secretion not only promotes weight gain, it can also affect where you carry that extra weight. In many cases where individuals are continuously under stress, this release of cortisol tends to be in the abdominal area. 

Behavioural changes

If you’ve ever reached for a chocolate bar after a particularly stressful situation, you’re not the only one. This behaviour is often a result of the hormonal change in your body, as Marilyn Glenville explains, ‘After a stressful event cortisol levels in the blood often remain high for a while, effectively increasing your appetite because your body thinks you should refuel after all this fighting or fleeing.’

As well as the urge to eat after a stressful situation, your brain will most probably tell you to stock up on foods filled with fast energy; ones that will leave your body ready and raring to go.

Your will be more inclined to crave simple carbohydrates, like sugary snacks, crisps or junk food, and this can lead to weight gain when you’re least expecting it.

‘If you don’t fight or flee when your body expects you to, the fat and glucose swimming around your system get deposited as fat, especially around the middle of your body’, Glenville explains.

Coping with stress

Worry not, there are several ways to deal with the physical effects of stress. Examining the route of the problem and working out what is causing your stress levels to peak is key, but this can take time. We recommend speaking to your GP to explore easy ways to combat stress. But for now, changing your bodies' reactions to certain situations can make an impact.

  • Revamp your cupboards Instead of buying white bread, sweets or fizzy drinks, stock up your cupboards with fresh food, grains and natural proteins to fuel your body properly. Complex carbohydrates give slow-release energy, which can help your body deal with stressful situations and lessen the hunger pangs created by cortisol.
  • Go for a run One of the best ways to cope with the stresses and strains of every day life is to grab your trainers and head outside. This is a positive way to deal with feeling flustered as it will give you time to think, and curb the urge to eat the foods that your stressed out body is craving. 
  • Eat your vitamins B vitamins are known to help combat stress, acting as a tool to fuel brain cells, aid your mood and ferry happy hormones around the body. These vitamins will help you to feel good generally and dilute a stressful situation, and also prevent weight gain in the long run as they enable the digestion of food. When your digestive system is running more efficiently, your body will be more likely to use the food that you consume instead of storing it as fat.
  • Take it easy Finding time to unwind, de-stress and relax can prove extremely powerful when it comes to both your mental wellbeing and any weight gain you would rather avoid. Take 15 minutes out to practice mindfulness, book yourself a yoga class, or read our 7 steps to beat stress and... relax. 

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