Stress is a natural reaction of the body to the demands of the environment. This response induces changes at the physiological level, also affecting metabolism, causing the necessary resources to be mobilized to meet the demands of the environment.
That’s why it’s not hard to find people who claim stress affects their weight, especially by increasing it by asking the question: fattening stress? Let’s look at the answer below.
Is it true that stress gets fat?
As we said, stress is a physiological and adaptive response of the organism, which allows it to face a situation that is seen as threatening. The body mobilizes the resources necessary to maintain its physical or mentalintegrity, and to do so induces changes at the physiological level, as well as in metabolism.
One of the main actions that occur at the physiological level is the activation of the adrenal glands, which release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones, especially cortisol, are known as stress hormones,and are responsible for accelerating the heartbeat, causing the heart to pump more blood into the muscles and other organs, preparing the body for fight or flight.
Normally, when the threat disappears, the brain sends the order to stop, in order to return to the calm before the onset of stressful stimulus. The problem is that sometimes it is difficult to return to a stress-free state, prolonging the effects of this response on the body, and contributing to the onset of various health problems. Even this stress, depending on the person’s personality characteristics, can appear and remain in the absence of real danger.
Since stress changes internal aspects of the body, and its maintenance involves health problems, it has been seen that it can also induce changes in weight, both by fattening and losing weight.
Factors influencing body reaction to stressful states
As we said, stress induces a number of changes in the body, involving the release of various hormones that can change people’s constitution and weight. Depending on different factors, stress can make you fatten, lose weight or maintain our weight.
One of the main factors influencing weight gain or loss is genetics and its interaction with the environment. There are people who, when stressed, gain a few extra pounds, while others lose a lot of weight.
2. Type of stress
Not all types of stress involve the same effect on the same person. Acute or short-lived stress has been seen to induce weight loss, while chronic stress, longer over time, contributes to weight gain.
3. Lifestyle changes
Lifestyle induces that, in the face of a stressful situation, one behavior or another is taken, although it can also be severely affected by the stress itself.
For example, there are people who, when stressed, try toplay sports to blur, while others come to the fridge to calm down. It is this second case that the relationship between stress and weight gain looks much clearer.
But it happens that, even as a very active and athletic person, living a lot of stress can induce changes in decision-making, causing food to be used to feel gratification.
Stress that is caused by negative circumstances, and associated with depression,has been linked to weight gain.
How does it make us fattened by stress?
As mentioned above, the factors that influence weight gain or loss are different. Below we will see exactly what the mechanisms that make stress fattening are.
Stress involves changes in blood levels of certain hormones. The adrenal glands, in a stressed state, cause cortisol to secrete. Cortisol causes blood glucose levels to rise,with the aim of making available all the energy and resources needed for the body.
If this glucose is not used, it remains in the blood. Because it doesn’t burn, the body builds it up in the form of fat. For this reason stress makes you fatten even without eating, since it is the body itself that transforms its resources into fat.
In this way, accumulated fat is increased and fluids are retained due to high levels of cortisol in the blood. For this reason, the idea of the stress with which the belly is fattened has been linked.
In addition, and as a side effect of this whole process, cells demand more energy, causing the appetite to increase. If cortisol levels remain very high for a long time a medical condition occurs, hypercortisolism, which is a symptom of chronic stress.
This increases insulin resistance, a hormone that encourages glucose absorption into cells.
Another hormone, called greline, hunger hormone, is also secreted during stress response. Its function is to induce appetite by ingesting calories, as well as encouraging the accumulation of fat (adiposity) in the body.
2. Behavioral changes
Stress involves changes in the behavior of the sufferer, as it is an answer to mobilize the resources that are possessed to get out alive from the stressful situation in question. It can encourage changes in lifestyle and health habits, affecting weight.
Lack of time and an accelerated lifestyle can increase the likelihood of consuming ready-madefoods, such as junk food, which is high in calories, with lots of fat, low quality and few nutrients, as well as reducing physical activity and sports practice.
In stressful situations, the hormones Serotonin and Dopamine are diminished. These hormones are part of the reward brain system. That is why when they are reduced there is a search for rewards, especially in the form of palatable food, which is pleasant and rewarding.
This type of foods, which have been called comfort foods, have high levels of fats and sugars, being very caloric and encouraging weight gain.
How to avoid stress gain
To avoid getting fat from stress, the best way is to try to manage that stress and associated eating desire. It is important that any attempt to avoid getting fat from stress should not be made by the simple desire to be thin, but by wanting to be healthy, both physically and psychologically.
1. Eat anti-stress foods
A diet rich in vegetables, especially fruits and vegetables, is a very good option to avoid getting fat from stress. They have many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the body.
But, also, it is very important to consume protein, present in eggs, meats, and legumes, helping to satiate appetite and controlling glucose and insulin levels.
Omega-3-rich foods, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, spinach and chia, increase levels of Tryptophan, which is a precursor to Serotonin, the well-known happiness hormone.
2. Avoid stressful foods
Just as there are stress-taking foods, they need to be stressed, and they can also be the direct cause of getting fat.
Foods high in sugar, as well as those thatare highly processed or artificial, should be avoided as they raise blood glucose levels and deregulate insulin levels.
3. Don’t abuse exciting substances
Exciting substances include alcohol, coffee, tea, energy drinks and nicotine. They increase blood pressure, increasing anxiety levels, which in turn opens up more appetite.
4. Plan meals
To avoid falling into temptations it is best to try to plan meals, making a schedule of when and what to eat, and trying to get each meal the necessary and sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as avoid having a caloric surplus at the end of the day.
5. Sleep hygiene
Sleep quality influences emotional regulation,making us feel more stressed and more eager to eat palatable food when we haven’t slept the recommended 6-8 hours a day.
6. Physical activity
In addition to being the best strategy to lose weight or avoid gaining it, physical exercise counteracts stress. It increases endorphins in the brain,generating a feeling of happiness and satisfaction, in addition to the fact that, once physical activity is performed, it is induced to a state of very therapeutic relaxation.
7. Identify the source of stress
Fattening is just an effect of stress, and what should worry us the most is the negative effects on our health of that prolonged stress. We should do an introspection exercise and try to figure out where that stress comes from,what causes it. Thus, once identified, we will be able to look for resources to deal with it.
In case it is not known where it might come from, seeking the help of a psychologist is a very good option, since he or she will give us the therapeutic guidelines and strategies to discover the source of discomfort and know how to deal with it.
- WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/stress-weight-gain
- Baratucci, Y. (2011). Stress and feeding.
- Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Fidler, J. A., Steptoe, A., Boniface, D., & Wardle, J. (2009). Perceived stress and weight gain in adolescence: a longitudinal analysis. Obesity, 17(12), 2155-2161.
- Yau, Y. H., & Potenza, M. N. (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Endocrinological Minerva, 38(3), 255.
- Brydon, L. (2011). Adiposity, leptin and stress reactivity in humans. Biological Psychology, 86(2), 114-120.