How much we weigh is based on so much more then simply what we eat and how much we exercise. Stress can be one of the biggest contributors to changes in body weight. Even a small daily annoyance, like sitting in traffic on the way to work, causes changes to occur in our body. Many things contribute to how our body responds to stress including how intense the stressor is, how long it lasts, how frequent it is, and how we have learned to cope with it. Hormonal changes that occur in our body when we are under stress also affect our weight. Luckily, there are many ways to combat stress and decrease the effects that it has upon our body.
When we perceive something as a threat, our body goes into action immediately. I’m sure you have heard of the “fight or flight” response; this is our body preparing to either fight off the threat or run away from it… this is how we react to short-term stressors. Norepinephrine and epinephrine, hormones released from our adrenal glands, prepare our body for fighting or running by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and the rate at which we use carbohydrates and fats for energy. Once the threat is gone, our body will return to a normal state, but if the threat is never perceived to be gone then our adrenal glands begin to secrete glucocorticoids, or stress hormones. Research studies have found that high levels of glucocorticoids are linked to a slowed metabolism and increased production of fat cells. The primary stress hormone in our body is cortisol, which stimulates our appetite and increases production of insulin. When insulin levels go up, our blood sugar goes down, which is another signal to our body that it is time to eat. In the short term, stress can decrease our appetite and cause weight loss because our body is focused on reacting quickly to the perceived threat, but stress over a long period of time will lead to weight gain.
Remember that a perceived threat may not be physical and it may not even be real! Our body reacts the same way to mental and emotional stress as it does to physical stress; and as long as we THINK something is a threat, our body is going to automatically react. How we deal with the stress in our life can also lead to changes in our weight. Being able to cope effectively with and manage stress will means you have an easier time reaching weight-loss goals, as well as making you feel better both mentally and physically.
Even though it may seem like creating a stress management system will add MORE stress to your life, it doesn’t have to! Learning to manage our stress levels is important for our mental and physical health. Something that helps one person relax might not be as helpful to someone else, so don’t be afraid to try something new or get creative. Here are a few tips to get you started on creating your own plan to de-stress:
• Build a strong support team of family and friends that you know your can turn to for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed and who support you in your goals.
• Make a to-do list, prioritize your appointments and errands, and don’t set yourself up for failure by putting too many activities on your plate at one time.
• Make yourself a priority, set aside time to spend alone, and prioritize self-care.
• Incorporate meditation or other stress-relief techniques into your daily routine.
• Get up and get moving! Exercise gives you a chance to clear your mind and work off any built-up frustrations from the day. It also decreases levels of cortisol and increases endorphins, which help to lower levels of stress and pain.
• High cortisol levels and low blood sugar cause us to crave foods that are high in sugar and fat, so it’s important to be mindful about what we choose to snack on in times of stress. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips or a cookie, grab a protein bar or piece of fruit, and enjoy sweets in moderation.
• Find a hobby you enjoy to help you relax like reading, listening to music, or gardening.