Stress is in all of our lives and many of us have not been taught how to manage our stress well. So what happens? We get all the not-so-fun symptoms, like weight gain.
Here is why many of us gain weight when we are stressed:
Stress makes food harder to digest.
When we are stressed our cortisol spikes and our adrenaline runs high, when this happens our body is preparing for action (think getting chased by a hungry lion) so our body and mind’s focus is all about survival- running, fighting and outsmarting. The energy from our digestion, hormone production, sexual organs, and any other non-necessary system will be reassigned to our brain and limbs.
Therefore eating when stressed is not ideal, as our digestive system is compromised and our food won’t absorbed in the most efficient and healthiest way. It will also take more energy to process which then causes us to eat more sugar and caffeine to make up for this energy loss (see this fun cycle we are in?).
Also when we eat while stressed, we are likely to be doing something else while eating and are not focused on our food at all. Which means we are not going to be fully chewing (more pressure our on digestive system) and hardly aware of what we are eating (so we might eat more food than what we actually need).
We stress eat.
When we are stressed we often use food to cover up anxiety and to energize ourselves. We use fried/ fatty foods, comfort food and/or alcohol (which also increases eating more in general) to hide the anxiety. This may temporarily create relief, but we still have to deal with the stress at some point in addition to the added stress we might have from gaining weight.
We also stress eat to raise our energy, gravitating towards quick options like sugar and caffeine, which both end up adding on the pounds and depleting our energy even further. One reason for this is our cortisol is again working for our old school selves here by causing us to crave carbohydrates (especially refined) and sugary foods so we have the energy to run and hide from that lion. But again, nowadays we are no longer doing the running. (Hint hint- exercise therefore is sooooo important in stress relief).
Combine all this with loss of willpower (we have limited amounts each day)= uncontrollable eating. Uncontrollable eating = weight gain, health issues, poor self image because we are eating all the foods we don’t want to be eating and feel out of control.
Plus when we are stressed we tend to skimp on healthy meals because we think it will take too much time and effort, even though we need all the nutrient dense food we can get to give us real energy to get through the stressful time.
Saving up for future use.
High cortisol wants to replenish our stock after a stressful event so we end up holding on to those extra pounds. Eating when stressed causes the body to store ‘visceral fat’ in our belly region. This type of fat can be unfortunately hard to get rid of and can cause inflammation leading to disease. Our body does this because it is going into conservation mode. Again this worked out well for us in the past when our main stress was from running away or fighting for our lives, but now that our stress is coming in less active forms we don’t need the replenishing and storing as we used to. So now it is working against us.
Despite all of this, it is important to understand that stress is not bad for us, it is just working under a different system. It is not here to kill us, it is here to save us! However times have changed and stress has not been updated.
So what do we do? We need to learn to manage it well by creating habitual stress relief actions. This way we can create a healthy relationship with stress and perhaps even drop a few pounds in the process.
How do we do that? Go below to get a free video series to get started on managing your stress better. Or partake in my 3 week video program- A New Relationship With Stress. Go here to sign up and/or to learn more about this powerful program!
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