Stressed out? Overwhelmed? Frustrated?
I think we can all agree that stress is bad. Chronic stress can cause headaches, muscle tension, digestive problems, poor sleep, depression, and weight.
You’re stressed, and it will begin to show. Even if your diet is pretty clean, you are working out five days a week; stress will cause weight gain or stubborn fat around the mid-section.
Stress plays a massive role in a person’s body fat. Long-term “chronic” stress increases hunger, and the result is usually weight gain from using food for comfort, but why does this happen?
Fight & Flight
Most of us seek comfort when we are under a lot of stress and pressure in any aspect of life, family, love, work, home, finances, etc. Thanks to your fight-or-flight response. Survival mode kicks in triggering constant hunger; this leads to binge eating for comfort and pleasure.
Why? Because your body thinks you’ll need a surplus of calories to deal with the stress. Our bodies are pretty brilliant. The result is a drive to replenish and store calories, leading to fat storage to prepare for the “fight.”
Cortisol and Comfort Foods
The stress hormone, cortisol, rises during high-stress times. This hormone change can turn your overeating into a habit. Because increased levels of the cortisol will cause higher insulin levels when your blood sugar drops… you begin to crave high sugar, carb-filled, and fatty foods.
So instead of a sensible side salad or a lean protein, you’re more likely to reach for cookies or mac and cheese. That’s why they’re called “comfort foods.”
Eating comfort foods can provide a small escape and pleasure, resulting in lower stress level TEMPORARILY.
This temporary pleasure is when the body releases dopamine, highly addictive, playing a role in happiness, reward, mood, and gratification. This “hit” of dopamine feels good; we get it one day, then the following day we desire it, and feed it. This has now created a new habit. Anything repeated more than two days in a row has established a pattern or a habit; the sooner this pattern is stopped, the easier it will be to create a new habit.
The bottom line?
More stress = More cortisol = Higher appetite for junk food = More belly fat.
Spikes in your cortisol can cause you to eat more than you usually would, or should. You aren’t satisfied with a reasonable portion. Once you get started, you’re not able to stop. Being physically full, but not happy is a common symptom. A way to deal with feelings instead of satisfying hunger. We’ve all been there, finishing a whole bag of chips out of boredom or downing an entire carton of cookies while cramming for a big test or presentation.
You are eating fast food more often.
When we are stressed, we will lose enthusiasm for cooking, so the quick, fast, and cheap trip through the drive-through will seem appropriate. Restaurant food pretty much guaranteed to be higher in fat, sugar, sodium, and more significant portions than we should eat in one sitting.
“Too busy” to exercise.
Under higher stress, our drive and motivation will be much lower, and vegging out on the couch will be more inviting. Skipping a workout often can be the slippery slope into an extended period of not stepping foot in a gym. Realize that if you miss two days in a row, you’ve just created a new habit. Doing a 5-minute workout on the days, you don’t feel like it, will keep the healthy habit installed, and prevents the feelings of guilt that compile if days, weeks o months pass without a workout.
Lack of water-dehydration:
It’s easy to confuse thirst for hunger, and you will naturally eat more when you’re not drinking enough. Water is no longer a priority when under stress; hours into a day, you realize you haven’t even drunk an ounce of water. Being hydrated takes some planning and being consistent. Once dehydrated, it takes time to rehydrate. Coffee and tea aren’t great substitutes, and caffeine causes further dehydration.
Missing meals-starvation mode:
When you overwhelmed, overworked, and consumed with the stress, food prep isn’t a priority. Time will seem to be at warp speed. Eating a healthy meal becomes a low priority. Skipping breakfast is the most common, and as the saying goes, this is the most important meal of the day, not that the others aren’t important, but that first meal kicks off your day, the fuel you need to get started, focused. Or not eating lunch because there’s too much to get caught up on so you power through your lunch hour.
On social media, you keep hearing about the latest diet trends or fad and how it worked for someone famous or perhaps a friend. So you try a dangerous fad diet to lose the excess weight quickly. Diets are just that temporary, restrictive, and results aren’t good. They actually can be hazardous, destructive to your metabolic engine, malnutrition, and that “weight loss” could be water weight, loss of valuable muscle, or even bone! What’s the solution? A healthy lifestyle, creating balance in all areas of your life. How you do one thing is how you do all things. Your nutrition should be balanced as well; no food group should be eradicated from your plate; the result is usually horrible cravings and a rebound in the future.
It’s pretty common to sleep less when under a lot of stress. Research has linked sleep deprivation to a slower metabolism and difficulty in losing weight. Being overly tired can also lower a person’s willpower to eat healthily and be active. We all need 8 hours of sleep every single night. Creating a healthy sleep schedule that’s consistent every single night, no matter the day, is the secret.
If the stress wasn’t enough, it could be amplified when your clothes don’t fit well, and your weight is climbing or not moving. Even with a work out plan or a meal plan, if the stress isn’t lowered, these won’t matter. You can work out 2 hours a day even, and it won’t budge the scale.
Here are a few ideas to help break the cycle:
Make exercise priority-no excuses.
Exercise is excellent for lowering stress. Not only does it burn calories, but it can also reduce your cortisol levels, and increase endorphins, feel-good hormones! Exercise or movement doesn’t have to take up 2 hours. Go for a short walk a couple of times a day. Find small holes in your schedule and get moving. Be sure whatever you choose it’s not punishment, its something you enjoy. The value that time, honoring it, and think of it as a time to get away from it all.
Learn to be mindful when you eat.
Paying close attention to your eating habits can help you gain control over your food consumption. Tracking everything you eat and drink in a day in a food journal can be useful. Slowing down and enjoying quality foods, by their appearance, texture, flavors, and being in the moment, can improve your eating. (If you haven’t used my 14-day wellness app for free let’s get you signed up HERE, this fun interactive super-intuitive app will make tracking easy, and you’ll have me to guide you every day)
Incorporate stress-relief strategies into your daily life.
What do you enjoy doing to reboot, or get energized? Everyone is different, and we all need a few things to be able to do at a moment’s notice. Maybe its yoga or reading a book. Incorporate stress relief time blocks in your daily schedule. Here’s my full list of self-care ideas, lots are free and take up very little time. CLICK HERE.
Sleep eight hours every night.
Create a nightly ritual that ensures you get the same 8 hours of sleep every night, no matter the day. “Catching up sleep” on the weekend doesn’t work. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every night is the key to a great sleep schedule. Creating a nightly ritual will also make a significant difference in your sleep quality, need help with this? Let me know!
Stress has a significant impact on the quality of life, our feelings, emotions, hormones, and waistline. Need help? Please let me know.