A GREAT article that explains what happens to our bodies when we are stressed. I found this very interesting because I’ve been more stressed this last 6 weeks and it does affect you. This article explains how.
Stressing Out, Gaining Weight, and Finally Losing It
Your phone is ringing, breakfast is sizzling, and you’re trying to get the kids off to school — all the while getting ready to go to work yourself. Sound familiar, or are you stressed out just by reading these words? If you’re a living breathing human being, chances are you experience some type of daily stress. And it’s true: Stress can cause you to gain weight.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Susan J. Melhorn and colleagues from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, found that not only can stress can take a daily toll on you in terms of physical and psychological well being, but it can cause weight gain. According to recent studies, social stress — public speaking, tests, job and relationship pressures — may cause overeating and weight gain.” But you probably already knew that; stress makes many of us want to eat more.
You gain weight for two reasons:
Biological Interference: Biologically your body is designed for a “fight or flight” response to stress. So when you’re stressed, your body releases hormones to help you do either. And since you’re most likely not being chased by a saber tooth tiger, this response is not exactly helpful when your boss sends you a stressful email or you have an argument with your spouse.
What happens (in the most basic terms) is that your body releases chemicals when you’re stressed. The brain sends out a stress hormone called cortisol, which regulates energy by tapping into the body’s fat storage and protein, converting it into glucose and bringing it to muscles and to the brain. Additionally, it can move fat from storage depots and relocate it to fat cell deposits deep in the abdomen; researchers have shown that the abdomen is the best place for fast energy retrieval.
Cortisol may linger in your body long after the cause of the initial stress has passed and trick your body into thinking it has done something active in response to a perceived ‘threat.’ What’s even more surprising is that cortisol acts like a biological green light, which sends signals to your brain to refuel your body as soon as possible.
Eating Comfort Foods: When things are stressful, what can we do? How can we feel better? How about brownies, donuts, candy, ice cream, pizza, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken? This type of comfort food is always quick to the rescue in our time of need. Over the past year we’ve comforted ourselves by gravitating toward this kind of food, thinking, “You only live once, so I might as well enjoy myself now.” When tension and anxiety are high in one aspect of life, it’s not unusual for other areas to seem trivial or less important.
Why do we crave these foods? First of all, it’s what we’re used to having in times of discomfort. Parents gave you ice cream when you had a bad day at school. I know my parents did. I do it for my daughter. I can’t help it — she feels better.
Secondly, carbohydrates make you feel better by releasing the hormone serotonin, which is a brain chemical that makes you feel good. So those are the reasons, now what?
Here are a few tips to relax and stay healthy during stressful times:
- Create a “Stress Snack Eating” Kit. Assemble an actual kit that has healthy snacks. Keep this kit around your office or at home and break out when needed. Make sure that you have portion controlled foods in there that are low in calories in case you over-indulge. Also put in a few non-food items, such as an iPod loaded with comedian sketches, a jump rope.
- Keep Away Unhealthy Snacks. This becomes very important when you know you’re going to have a stressful day. Researchers have shown time and time again that snacks in sight are snacks that are eaten.
- Enjoy Healthy Comfort Foods. My favorite is popcorn (made in a pan or air popped) made at home with a bit of butter spray, salt, and garlic. You can find more recipes in my column, Healthful Comfort Food Recipes for Rough Times.
- Exercise the Stress Away. Yes, go out for a walk, take a spin class, go for a run — research shows that a bit of exercise can help you fend off unhealthy eating and reduce stress.
Article by… Charles Stuart Platkin, PhD
Clifta Coulter Perez
Reno Personal Fitness Trainer