Don't Let Stress Contribute to Weight Gain


Woman Eating Comfort Food

Ever notice how when your stress levels spike, so does your tendency to reach for comfort foods? If you're trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss, stress can sabotage your efforts in a hurry. Stress eating can be a habit, according to the Mayo Clinic, but it can also be driven by biology.

Acute and Chronic Stress

When you're under acute stress (of the fight-or-flight-because-you-think-you're-about-to-die variety), your appetite actually shuts down. Your body knows it's better to put that energy and focus into survival. When you're chronically stressed, however, your body secretes a hormone called cortisol, which increases your appetite. Not only that, but with chronic stress, your cortisol level doesn't rise and fall as it normally would — it stays stuck in the "on" position, which means you're always looking for a nibble.

Appetite Changes

Stress doesn't just kick up your appetite; it intensifies cravings for sugar and fat. Although many of the studies have been done in animals, there's also research to support the phenomenon in humans. Cortisol may be a factor here, but another hormone called ghrelin may also contribute to your cravings. Fat and sugar apparently create a feedback loop that soothes the brain, according to the Harvard Mental Health Letter. Not to mention that stress also tends to sabotage your sleep, make you less likely to exercise and increase your alcohol intake — all of which can pack on the pounds.

Managing Weight Creep

Managing your stress can help you avoid weight creep. Regular exercise promotes the release of endorphins — "feel good" chemicals in the brain that counteract stress-related chemicals and hormones. You'll also sleep better if you exercise regularly. Meditation and social support can also help with stress release. Don't let stress derail your weight loss — remember, you're the one in control.

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