Stressful situations affect people in very different ways. One of the most well-known and annoying manifestations is, without a doubt, the weight gain suffered by some of them.
Although the question is complex, we could identify three main reasons that explain why for some people stress means gaining weight. These three reasons also allow a more detailed vision and, therefore, easier to apply possible solutions.
The stress hormone: cortisol is to blame
The first of the reasons, directly related to the other two, is hormonal . When we are faced with a stressful situation, regardless of its origin, our adrenal gland begins to secrete cortisol. This steroid hormone’s main functions are to activate some defense mechanisms.
Among them is the release of sugar in the blood, increasing blood glucose . The objective is to maintain a constant supply of sugar in the brain, as well as to have all the energy potential available in the event of any contingency. As a consequence, cortisol counteracts insulin, inhibiting its anabolic function.
Therefore, by increasing the blood sugar concentration, the hepatic fat and glycogen storage mechanisms are activated , as a medium-term response. In this process, other gears are also activated that send hunger signals, which helps to accumulate more fat. It is estimated that this mechanism has evolved as protection against stressful and complex situations in the short and medium term.
However, in the long term it can be counterproductive since it maintains a blood glucose level and, with it, a storage capacity and worse management of fats and sugars. For this reason, at the metabolic level, the cortisol produced by stress disposes the body to accumulate fat more easily.
The hormone would be nothing without the behavior
For some years we have known that stress makes some people tend to consume certain substances rich in fats and sugars in greater quantities. In part, this is explained by the reward response that arises from consuming these types of palatable, pleasant and also very energy-dense substances.
In any case, this change in behavior is a crucial issue. No metabolic change, by itself, will have a permanent effect if it is not accompanied by context. To gain weight, a person needs to eat more. The same happens when we are under a stress situation: our cortisol levels are high, and the intake changes, allowing more fat to accumulate, more quickly.
To make matters worse , under stressful circumstances, these foods, rich in fats and sugars, become more palatable and less filling . And it’s not just the intake that changes. In stressful situations, our entire behavior pattern changes: we can tend to less physical activity, semi-depressive behaviors or important changes against our lifestyle.
Rest also plays a trick
Another issue that we are well aware of is the relationship between sleep and obesity . When we don’t sleep well we can cause our body to suffer a series of metabolic problems . Behind these problems is the way our body has to process things as basic as energy. In other words, and in short, not resting increases the stress that we suffer.
Adequate rest, with quality sleep, helps improve glucose tolerance . This means that, with a regular pattern of sleep, if it is of quality, glucose peaks do not occur so abruptly. In general, acceptable glucose tolerance levels allow the full metabolism to react smoothly, adapting to the available blood glucose.
This leads, without any other remedy, to reducing the chances of being overweight, obese or diabetic and, also, to lose weight, as studies show. On the contrary, not sleeping well means more stress, worse emotional management, more irritability and even problems such as depression. On the other hand, stress prevents a good rest.
Again, cortisol works against deep sleep by keeping the mind and body active , ready to react. Stress, in general, causes a feeling of restlessness and discomfort due to high hormone levels, muscle tension and alertness. This obviously helps increase stress levels even more. In this way, a three-way circle is closed by which stress enhances weight gain.
Coping with stress and anxiety
As a consequence of stress, these three pathways we were talking about crystallize in the state we call anxiety. Can the consequences of this be partially mitigated? Yes. For this we will have to put some measures in this regard. Among them is the organization. Nothing like a little discipline and a routine to avoid making selective refrigerator robberies.
On the other hand, within the organization we will come across what we should buy and store. If we avoid getting food with a low nutritional level, it will be easier not to get carried away by craving.
This will also help us to have a healthy and more productive diet in this stressful situation. We can also add some movement to our life, enhancing exercise (even at home).
It is also useful to learn to differentiate between hunger and hunger derived from stress . The organization, again, can help us to do this. Managing the moment is important, for which we can use relaxation techniques, practice some yoga or look for elements of distraction. Dealing with stress and anxiety is not easy, but with a little work and will, small but important achievements can be made.
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