Have you ever stopped to wonder, “Does stress cause weight gain?” After all, stress is an unavoidable part of life, and all of us experience it at some point.
However, stress causes us to engage in activities that cause us to gain weight, such as craving comfort foods or mindlessly overeating. It also contributes to HPA axis dysfunction and other changes in our body that induce stress weight gain.
In this article, we will show you how managing stress levels can help you lose weight, and what to do to avoid the inevitable stress weight gain so many of us are experiencing during these tough times.
Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?
You may think that stress is what keeps you productive; however, studies show that stress may affect your reception and perception of the things around you, including your ability to learn, make decisions, pay attention, and use of judgment. It also increases your risk of obesity. According to one study, stress plays a major role in the development of obesity. It also makes it hard to lose weight in people who have increased glucocorticoid exposure or sensitivity.
Cortisol is an example of a glucocorticoid hormone that is responsible for redistributing white adipose tissue, or your “bad” fat, into the abdominal region where the dreaded abdominal stress weight gain occurs. High cortisol levels also increase your appetite with a preference for comfort foods, which are high in calories, sugar, and fat – like a cheeseburger and chocolate chip cookie.
When we are stressed, it causes a vicious cycle. Chronic stress leads to a consumption of foods with a high glycemic index and a reduced amount of sleep. This makes us feel even more stressed, where cortisol levels continue to rise and amplify the consequences of these effects.
Chronic stress also causes an elevated response from the HPA axis, causing prolonged levels of cortisol, norepinephrine, and CRH – hormones that can lead to a range of inflammatory, metabolic, and neuropsychiatric diseases.
Additionally, research shows that increased levels of glucocorticoid inhibit growth hormone, gonadal axis, and thyroid axis, which contributes to the loss of muscle mass and bone mass, and increases visceral fat (the type of fat found around your middle section).
This loss of lean muscle mass and accumulation of visceral fat may lead to other complications that are related to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Not to mention, obesity can also increase the risk of depression and mood disorders, further complicating your stress-busting efforts.
Stress Weight Gain – Breaking the Vicious Cycle
So, does stress cause weight gain? The answer is definitely yes – but it can also lead to other life-threatening complications, such as diabetes and heart disease. As you can see, controlling chronic stress is more important than just looking better in your jeans.
To break this cycle, it’s important to control cortisol levels first. On average, people with obesity have higher levels of cortisol levels. This can apply to children, also. According to one study, six-year-olds with the highest hair cortisol concentrations were ten times more likely to develop obesity.
Again, these findings suggest that cortisol was most specifically linked to an increase in abdominal fat mass. High cortisol levels was also linked to a more persistent obesity over time, meaning that you’ll be more likely to struggle with weight gain over many years if you don’t control stress.
Why does this happen? Well, research shows that greater density of cortisol and glucocorticoids in the visceral adipose tissue causes fat redistribution to the abdominal area. In other words, stress quite literally causes your body to store fat in your problem areas.
You can break this vicious cycle by being aware of the foods you eat and WHY you eat them. Are you eating at meal time or snacking throughout the day to keep your mouth and fingers busy?
Keeping healthy snacks on hand can prevent you from reaching for something unhealthy. Think fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, nuts, and coconut-based yogurt.
Turning something like stress weight gain around can seem almost insurmountable, but before life finds a way to force you to stop, let’s get you to choose it so that you can thrive in productivity, thrive in balance, and ultimately create the life that you desire!