How Stress Contributes to Unhealthy Weight Gain
When you experience stress regularly, it can significantly impact your health, particularly your weight. The stress hormone cortisol can increase, unhealthy stress-induced behaviors can develop, or a combination of the two can cause your weight to spike. The link between stress and weight gain is glaring.
The Stress Hormone Cortisol
Cortisol is the stress hormone. It’s often referred to as the fight or flight hormone.
When your body senses stress, cortisol levels are released into the bloodstream. These levels increase significantly when you are under chronic and long-standing stress. Studies show that long-term stress can increase cortisol levels by up to 30 percent and that a single stressful event can cause cortisol levels to rise by 10 to 30 percent.
Cortisol and Metabolism
The hypothalamus acts as the master controller of your metabolism. Although your body can deal with stress without major problems, it starts to impact how your metabolism works when stress becomes chronic.
The hypothalamus works by sending a message to your pituitary gland, which is found at the base of your brain. The pituitary gland releases a hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in response to the message from the hypothalamus.
ACTH, in turn, sends signals to your adrenal glands, which are found on top of your kidneys. The adrenal glands release cortisol in response to the signals from the pituitary gland.
Moderate cortisol levels can be beneficial because they help control your metabolism and control how you convert food into energy. But when your body is constantly stressed, cortisol levels stay high, and your body struggles to burn off the calories you need to sustain your weight.
Which Unhealthy Habits Are Induced by Stress?
When you are under stress, cortisol levels increase. This means that the parts of your brain that govern rational thinking, self-control, and willpower are inhibited. This can cause several unhealthy stress-induced behaviors.
- Lack of Sleep
Studies have shown that people who are stressed out and sleep less tend to gain more weight than those who don’t. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to lie in bed at night and toss and turn, which can cause you to oversleep or feel exhausted the following day. You may eat more or skip meals during the day because you’re too busy to eat.
- Reduced Exercise
When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to avoid exercise. You may not have the time, feel too tired, or feel too rushed to get to the gym or fit in your workout. This can cause your metabolism to slow down.
- Increase in Unhealthy Eating
When you’re stressed out, you will feel the urge to eat. After all, stress makes you feel hungry, and if you’re not eating well during the day, you’re going to turn to unhealthy, comfort foods that provide a quick and easy solution. Donuts, chips, pizza, ice cream, and even alcohol become go-to foods to help you cope with stress.
- Stress-induced Diet
When you’re stressed out, you may start to restrict your diet. This can cause you to lose control of what you’re eating or completely avoid certain types of food. This can make you even more stressed out because you’re not getting the nutrients you need from your diet.
The most obvious way to reduce stress is to take steps to manage the stressors in your life. Life is full of challenges, and we can’t always avoid stress—but we can learn to manage it effectively. And when it comes to your weight, managing your stress can be a simple way to help you lose weight and stay healthy.
At Rhythmic Health, our mission is to help people solve their health challenges and then lead ever more fulfilling lives. We believe (and science agrees) that many health challenges can be solved with relatively small changes to daily life. We think of it as finding your healthy rhythm. And we’re driven to help each person find theirs. Our at-home weight loss tips will help you get yourself back to shape! Check out our blog now!