Stress and Weight Loss
Typically describes a negative condition that can have an impact on one’s mental and
physical well-being, but it is unclear what exactly defines stress and whether or not stress
is a cause, an effect, or the process connecting the two. With organisms as complex as
humans, stress can take on entirely concrete or abstract meanings with highly subjective
qualities, satisfying definitions of both cause and effect in ways that can be both tangible
Fight or flee’ — or chow down
While this system works fine when our stress comes in the form of physical danger –
when we really need to “fight or flee”, and then replenish — it doesn’t serve the same
purpose for today’s garden-variety stressors. Often, eating becomes the activity that
relieves the stress. Since your neuro-endocrine system doesn’t know you didn’t fight or
flee, it still responds to stress with the hormonal signal to replenish nutritional stores –
which may make you feel hungry. Following those stress signals can lead not only to
weight gain, but also the tendency to store what is called “visceral fat” around the
midsection. These fat cells that lie deep within the abdomen have been linked to an
increase in both diabetes and heart disease. To further complicate matters, the “fuel” our
muscles need during “fight or flight” is sugar — one reason we crave carbohydrates when
we are stressed. To move the sugar from our blood to our muscles requires insulin, the
hormone that opens the gates to the cells and lets the sugar in, and high levels of sugar
and insulin set the stage for the body to store fat.
Mind Over Matter
As much as we would like to blame all our weight gain on stress, experts say that eating
in response to stress can also be a learned habit — one that’s merely encouraged by brain
chemistry. Under stress, there’s an impulse to do something, to move, and often, eating
becomes the activity that relieves the stress. It’s easy to do and it’s comforting. In fact, it
may be our bodies’ initial response to rising levels of cortisol that teaches us there is
comfort in sugary or starchy foods. Whether your urge to eat is driven by hormones or
habits or a combination of both, research shows there are ways to interrupt the cycle,
break the stress and stop the weight gain.
Here’s what the experts recommend:
1. Exercise. This is the best stress-buster — and also happens to be good for you in lots of
other ways. It not only burns calories, when you move your body, even with a simple
activity such as walking, you begin to produce a cascade of biochemical’s, at least some
of which counter the negative effects of stress hormones — as well as control insulin and
2. Eat a balanced diet — and never skip a meal. Eat breakfast — and try to consume six
small rather than three huge meals a day, with foods from all the food groups.
3. Don’t lose sleep, over your weight problems or your stress — When we don’t get
enough rest, cortisol levels rise, making us feel hungry and less satisfied with the food we
4. Devote time to relaxation — Because it works much like exercise to produce brain
chemicals that counter the effects of stress, finding the activities that make you feel
relaxed and calm.
5. Snack on whole grain, high fiber foods. If you just can’t ignore those stress-related
hunger pangs, try foods high in fiber and low in sugar, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread,
or fruits such as pears or plums.
6. Avoid caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol — According to the American Institute of
Stress, cigarettes, as well as caffeine-laden soft drinks, coffee, tea, and even chocolate,
can cause cortisol levels to rise, stress to increase, blood sugar to drop and hunger to
prevail. The institute also cautions against drinking too much alcohol, which can affect
blood sugar and insulin levels.
7. Take your vitamins — A number of medical studies have shown that stress can
deplete important nutrients — particularly the B complex and C vitamins, and sometimes
the minerals calcium and magnesium.
Because these nutrients are needed to balance the effects of stress hormones like cortisol,
and may even play a role in helping us burn fat, it’s important to keep levels high.
Side Effect of Stress
Can be either short-term or long-term or both. For example, poor immunity, a common
side effect of stress, can be dangerous over the long-term, leading to cancer and heart
disease; on the other hand, a compromised immune system can also present itself in the
form of an annoying but relatively benign fever blister. All side effects of stress can cause
normal and healthy physical, emotional and mental actions to slow or stop altogether.
Stress and Weight Loss
While some people will lose weight while stressed other will experience the opposite and
gain weight. For most people, stress leads to a greater chance of obesity. If you are trying
to lose weight it may seem unrealistic when added stress is factored in. Try and avoid
gaining more weight during stressful times by making good food choices and exercising.