Blog: Is Stress Making You Overweight?

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How does stress affect your weight?

When we are stressed, certain hormones are released in response. These hormones can have an effect on our weight – because they have an effect on the way we eat and our motivation to move/exercise.

Everyone responds differently to different circumstances, and what may be highly stressful for one person, may not bother another. However, it is not necessarily these brief high stress situations that we need to worry about – it’s the chronic stress that we deal with day in and day out that could be having adverse effects on our health and weight.

In the short term, a stressor produces the ‘fight or flight’ response, whereby the body releases adrenaline and cortisol, which raise heart rate and produce a release of glucose and fat into the blood ready to fuel the action. This is a beneficial response to stress in the short term.

In the long term however, if stress is chronic and persistent, the stress hormones including cortisol are constantly being produced but at a lower level, which can not only have an effect on your overall body weight, but also where the fat is stored.

Chronically elevated levels of cortisol have been associated with excess abdominal fat. Excess fat stored in this area near the internal organs can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver and some cancers. Elevated cortisol levels may depress immune function, raise blood pressure and affect thyroid function and blood sugar control.

Being chronically stressed also effects our ability to have a good night’s sleep. This then leaves us feeling tired the next day, sapping us of motivation to exercise and making us more likely to reach for pick-me-up ‘comfort’ foods which generally are high in fats and sugars.

As you can see, the effects of chronic stress are not pretty. Well how do we manage it? you may ask…The first step is being AWARE that you may be stressed – are you having trouble sleeping, using alcohol, drugs or food to help you cope, are you lacking motivation in areas of your life you usually would not? You may well be chronically stressed.

Some strategies to overcome stress include:

  • Mind/body techniques – yoga, meditation, tai chi
  • Deep breathing – take 5 mins out of your day to slow down and put things into perspective
  • Exercise
  • Social outings with family/friends
  • Better sleep – no screen time (TV, computer) an hour before bed, no caffeine after 4pm, warm drink before bed.

All in all, managing stress, better sleep, exercise and a healthy diet all contribute to a healthy life!

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