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How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain

https://www.verywellmind.com/how-stress-can-cause-weight-gain-3145088

verywellmind.com

How Stress Can Cause Weight Gain
Learn about how high levels of stress are linked to weight changes, plus find out what you can do to address it.

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Stress can prevent you from keeping a healthy weight

Stress can prevent you from keeping a healthy weight

Stress can prevent you from keeping a healthy weight.

Every time you're stressed, your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. Your body releases glucose into your bloodstream to increase your energy levels for a possible fight or flight response. Once the threat is gone, your adrenaline high wears off, your blood sugar drops and cortisol kicks in to quickly top up your energy supply.

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Cortisol and sugar cravings

With increased levels of cortisol, your body is supplied with glucose for energy, and your body signals the need for extra sugar.

The downside of eating sugar is that your body tends to store sugar, especially after stressful situations, as abdominal fat. The vicious cycle continues: stress, cortisol release, craving sugar, weight gain.

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Cortisol and metabolism

Cortisol slows down your metabolism, decreasing your ability to lose weight.

Researchers found that women who reported one or more stressors burned fewer calories than non-stressed women. Stressed women also had higher insulin levels, resulting in fat storage.

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Unhealthy habits caused by stress

  • Emotional eating: Excess nervous energy can cause you to eat more than necessary.
  • Eating "accessible" or fast food: When stressed, we often eat what is readily available, which is often unhealthy options—for example, eating fast-food instead of cooking a balanced meal.
  • Exercising less: With too much stress, exercise is often the last thing on your list to do.
  • Skipping meals: With too much on your plate, you may find yourself skipping meals.
  • Sleeping less: Many people are unable to sleep well when they're stressed. Sleep deprivation is linked to a slower metabolism and can also reduce willpower.

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How to break the cycle of stress

  • Make exercise a priority. It can reduce stress and regulate stress-related weight gain.
  • Eat healthier comfort foods, such as air-popped popcorn.
  • Practice mindful eating. Focus on what you're eating without distractions such as your phone or the TV.
  • Keep a food journal. Being more aware of what you eat could improve your eating habits.
  • Drink more water. We often confuse thirst for hunger. If you eliminated mild dehydration and you still feel hungry, then grab a healthy snack.
  • Incorporate stress-relief strategies such as reading a good book, taking a deep breath, listening to music, or going for a daily walk.

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Emotional eating

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Awareness Is Key

Emotional eating is sometimes called "mindless eating" because we often don't think about what we're doing and let our unconscious habits or drives take over.

Find Relaxation Techniques

When you’re under stress, your body is likely producing higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that tends to make people crave sweet and salty food—the stuff that’s generally not good for us. 

Create a simple stress management plan, or find stress relievers that fit with your specific situation.

Cope in Healthy Ways

Many people use food to deal with uncomfortable emotions like anger, frustration, and fear. There are healthier ways to cope with emotions:

  • Talking to a friend.
  • Journaling: When you feel like reaching for unhealthy food, reach for a pen instead.
  • Exercise.