There is plenty of published research linking stress and weight gain. While a variety of external behaviors and factors affect how we deal with stress, there are also biological responses automatically occurring within our body.
Cortisol, a stress-related hormone, has been associated with weight gain, especially abdominal fat. When under stress, very large amounts of cortisol are released into the blood stream. The most amount of fat is collected in the abdomen region when we eat under stress because receptors for cortisol are located in the abdomen. To make things worse, a higher waist-to-hip ratio has been associated with higher levels of cortisol under stress. That is a double whammy for those of us who are even slightly overweight. It means we automatically start triggering more abdominal fat storage than our leaner peers.
Metabolism is also impacted by excess cortisol. Metabolism slows down. A slower metabolism means you can’t burn off calories efficiently, and this results in weight gain even when consuming a lower amount of calories. Another double whammy here. Since most people tend to eat more when under stress, the rate of weight gain increases exponentially.
So what can you do to avoid having cortisol create a roadblock in your weight loss efforts? Manage stress proactively! Don’t wait until it catches up with you to start fighting it. Here are a few things to do:
Raise awareness: Gain awareness of your stress triggers and reactions.
Get in those workouts: Exercise regularly to regulate cortisol levels. It can also help alleviate depression. Try relaxation exercises such as guided meditations and yoga.
Get enough rest: Your body rejuvenates itself while sleeping, and helps you cope with stress more effectively. It may mean that you make a wiser food choice the next day, and help yourself in your weight loss or maintenance plan.
It is important to note that while it is important you manage stress and cortisol levels appropriately, medication is not a recommended first option. Try one of the methods above first!
Dr. Michael Allen
Fitness Instructor & Fat Loss Factor Founder