Posted on Sep 25, 2019, 7 p.m.
We all struggle with weight control, and it has many underlying causes, perhaps the most common cause is stress. Stress is not a friend to the waistline, whether it be mild, major, or chronic stress can set off physical and emotional changes that drive you to eat more comforting bad foods and less nutritious choices which can make weight can much easier.
“Stress drives up levels of a hormone called cortisol in the blood,” says Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. “Stress might also disrupt sleep and drive people to seek out food when they wouldn’t normally — such as in the middle of the night,” says Dr. Stanford.
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal gland to help regulate metabolism, and it plays roles in memory and blood sugar management. When levels rise it can promote inflammation and may trigger the body to start storing fat around the midsection. This reaction may have been beneficial in earlier times to help the body store food for tough times, but today this may lead to unhealthy weight gain.
At some point or another it is common for everyone to experience some stress, but evidence suggests that women are disproportionately affected by stress. Women were found to report higher stress levels than men, and to be more likely to have increased stress levels in a study by the American Psychological Association.
Stress may be an inevitable part of life, but weight gain that may accompany it is not; by changing your response to stress and adopting strategies to help reduce and manage stress can keep you from putting on unwanted extra weight.
Exercise can help you to burn off tension, and it is important to stress management because it can help to reduce cortisol levels. But when you are stressed you will use any excuse you can find to avoid exercise, meaning it is important to pick an activity that you enjoy to help you dissolve daily stress whether it be swimming, yoga, roller skating, or racket ball.
Lack of sleep can also be a big factor as it increases the level of stress hormones in the body. Ensuring that you get enough sleep is important to keep stress in check, keep in mind that blue light from smart devices can interfere with sleep so avoid any screen time at least an hour before going off to slumberland.
Changing your outlook can also help keep stress under control as the amount of stress you feel is largely based upon your circumstances and your perception of it. People vary on their ability to handle stress based on experiences and personality, working on changing the way you think about challenges may help to reduce your stress levels.
If you know that you are about to encounter a high stress period try to set up support before hand to help you through it. This may involve having a friend to call, adjusting your schedule to make time for exercise, or making an eating plan to help you resist those unhealthy impulses.
If you have persistent problems coping with stress or controlling emotional eating it may be time to talk with your doctor who may be able to help you make a better plan, or even refer to you a health coach, support services, or a specialist.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.