We’re all familiar with the common perception of how stress and weight gain are linked – especially in women. You’ll get stressed out and nervous. The next thing you know you’re feeding your mouth – probably with good stuff like chocolate or ice cream, or both. What happens next is predictable – weight gain. So what causes this urge to eat?
The answer is cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s natural stress-fighting and anti-inflammatory hormone. It’s even called the “stress hormone.” When a woman experiences stress it causes her body to generate increased levels of cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels have been associated with increasing or creating hunger urges. This explains her increased desire for food. It’s not just her imagination creating food desires – it’s her body craving for food.
Of course it doesn’t help the the cravings one gets is often for fatty or sugary foods – the very things that you don’t need. These foods may help you to feel better in the interim but they really don’t cause your stress levels to go down. In fact, if you were to somehow have a stress monitor attached to you as you were eating your fat and sugary foods, you’d probably see no change in the results.
Blood sugar is another component to take into consideration. Prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, which in turn can cause mood swings, fatigue, and conditions such as hyperglycemia. Hyperglycemia is a symptom and cause of diabetes in which there are elevated levels of blood sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream. Hyperglycemia causes mild to severe symptoms, and can even eventually lead to coma and death. But elevated levels of blood sugar can also cause weight gain.
So stress not only can be directly responsible for causing your weight gain. But the weight gain itself causes still more stress, creating a catch 22 for anyone caught in the cycle.
Now stress does affect some people differently. In fact, in some people stress results in decreased appetite or a decreased ability to hold down food. A good example might be a performer who gets so nervous before going on stage that he or she throws up.
The key thing here is to be able to recognize your body’s signals that it’s becoming stressful. Knowing this will help you to understand on an intellectual level what is going on and enable you to consciously change your response.
How Exercise Helps Relieve Stress
When you exercise, you release endorphins into your bloodstream. You feel better. Less stressed out. You blood sugar becomes more balanced. And, the very act of exercising helps you to control your stress and limit your weight gain. All-in-all, exercise while good for your weight, is also good for lowering your stress levels.
Another good thing that you can do is to stock your pantry and refrigerator will healthy foods so that when you do get those inevitable stress urges, at least the food you are eating will be food that’s good for you.