Stress and Weight Gain

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on June 18 2015

If you are trying to slim down for summer, and despite eating healthy and exercising you aren’t getting the results you want, then it is time to consider other factors that can affect your body weight, such as stress. In this two-part blog I discuss how stress contributes to weight gain and what you can do about it.

Stress has become a powerful and disabling force that each and every one of us has to deal with every day. How we manage our stress is critical. Without the proper coping mechanisms and lifestyle approaches, stress can take a serious toll on our health.

It is well established that chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, mental health issues, insomnia, certain cancers, digestive disorders, weakened immune function accelerated aging, and yes, even weight gain.

We may think we are coping okay with stress because we deal with it all the time and we may not even be aware of how stressed out we are. To check your stress level, take a few minutes to complete the eye-opening  Stress Index Survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association

There are several ways in which stress can contribute to weight gain. Stress can trigger cravings for comfort foods such as cookies and other sweets. These foods are high in calories and since they break down into sugar quickly, they cause dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This triggers hunger, cravings for more sweets, and insulin spikes.

Perpetually high insulin levels can lead to insulin resistance (and type 2 diabetes) and it can also impact your waistline. Insulin is a hormone that promotes fat storage−particularly around the midsection. It becomes a vicious cycle because as we gain belly fat, those deep fat cells produce hormones that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance, risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Another part of the stress-weight gain picture involves cortisol, the stress hormone. During stress, the production of cortisol increases to help the body mobilize energy. And in doing so, fat gets moved from storage deposits and relocated into fat cells deep in the abdomen. As the body is using up energy stores, appetite increases, so you continually feel hungry.

To make matters worse, researchers believe that cortisol directly influences food consumption by binding to receptors in the brain (specifically, the hypothalamus) that stimulate cravings for foods high in fat and sugar.

Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by regulating other chemicals that are released during stress, such as CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone), leptin, and neuropeptide Y (NPY). High levels of NPY and CRH, and reduced levels of leptin, have been shown to stimulate appetite.

Lastly, levels of DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), testosterone, and growth hormone are reduced in response to stress. These hormones are involved in regulating muscle mass and metabolism, so when levels go down, it is bad news for your waistline as it leads to muscle loss and fat gain.

As you can see, stress has profound effects on health and your body weight. In the next blog, I provide some simple strategies that you can adopt to better manage stress, including a new clinically-researched supplement that can help reduce stress and its effects on your weight.

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