Whether you’re having problems at work or at home, you’re stressed and it’s beginning to show in more ways than one. You notice a bulge around your mid-section that wasn’t there before, wondering where these extra pounds are coming from? Well stress could be one of the culprits. It plays a role in weight gain. While it can make you have less of an appetite at first, long-term “chronic” stress actually boosts your hunger. Stress can significantly impact your ability to maintain a healthy weight. It can also prevent you from losing weight, whether it’s the result of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy stress-induced behaviors, or a combination of the two.
Most of you become overeaters when you’re feeling a lot of pressure. This happens thanks to your fight-or-flight response. Once your body reaches a certain stress level, it does what it feels it needs to and in most cases, that means to overeat. Why? Because your body thinks you’ve used calories to deal with your stress, even though you haven’t. As a result, it thinks you need to replenish those calories, even though you don’t.
Levels of “the stress hormone,” cortisol, rise during tension-filled times. This can turn your overeating into a habit. Increased levels of the hormone also causes insulin levels to spike which drops your blood sugar and you crave sugary, fatty foods. So instead of a salad or a banana, you’re more likely to reach for cookies or mac and cheese. That’s why they’re called “comfort foods”. Eating can be a source of solace and can lower stress. This happens, in part, because the body releases chemicals in response to food that might have a direct calming effect.
Even if you aren’t eating foods high in fat and sugar, cortisol also slows down your metabolism, making it difficult to lose weight. In addition to the hormonal changes related to stress, stress can also drive you to engage in unhealthy behaviors, all of which can cause weight gain. Emotional eating, less exercising, skipping meals and sleeping less can all contribute to your weight gain.