They say there are only two things certain in life — death and taxes. I’d argue for a third, because it seems these days there’s no getting away from stress!
Whether it’s work, relationships, finances, family, or simply trying to keep up with a hectic modern life, we all experience stress at some point.
That said, we all get stressed for different reasons, and we all deal with it in different ways. Those who cope effectively with stress typically see few negative consequences. Unfortunately, those who don’t cope well are not quite so lucky.
Weight gain is one such consequence. We’re only just realizing exactly how powerful this connection is, but if you’re stressed and struggling to manage your weight, stress is probably playing a major part.
Stress and Emotional Eating
Imagine you come home after what might just be the most stressful day of your working life. All you want to do is relax and forget about your day, but your partner is stressed too. You get into a huge argument, which leaves you feeling miserable. And now it’s dinner time — what do you eat?
After a day like yours, many of us would go straight for the comfort food. Quick, simple and filling meals, like a big bowl of pasta or a generous slice of lasagna. Maybe washed down with glass or two of wine, accompanied by our good friends Ben & Jerry! Whatever you choose, chances are it won’t be a lean grilled chicken breast with a nutritious side salad.
Why do we find it so difficult to make healthy food choices when we’re stressed? Well, we associate our favorite foods with satisfaction, comfort, and enjoyment, so it makes sense that we’d reach for them when we need a pick-me-up. Unfortunately this connection can become irresistibly strong over time, and we can find ourselves unable to fight the pull of emotional eating.
That’s because eating triggers dopamine production. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness and euphoria, and it causes the brain’s reward center to light up. This is our body’s way of making us repeat survival behaviors like eating and sex, but it also responds to triggers like cocaine, heroin, and even junk food!
The reward center can’t distinguish between harmful and healthy stimulation. It just knows when something feels good and it’s hardwired to make us seek out more of it. That’s a good thing if the behavior is healthy. However, in the case of unhealthy behaviors like using drugs or binge-eating foods, it can lead to addiction.
Foods high in salt, sugar, or fat are especially potent dopamine triggers. Over time, we can come to associate these foods with pleasure, and we can start to crave them when we’re feeling stressed. This might not be much of a problem if you only experience stress occasionally, but what about if you’re chronically stressed?
Emotional eating as a response to chronic stress can quickly lead to weight gain and even food addiction. Before you know it you might be dealing with 10, 20, or even 30 extra pounds. Until you find effective ways to deal with your stress levels, this is likely to continue indefinitely.
Stress and Hormones
Cortisol is a stress hormone that controls the body’s fight-or-flight response. Here’s how it works…
Let’s say you see a car rushing towards you. There’s no time to think clearly and your fight-or-flight response takes over. The priority is to drive as much energy as possible to the muscles so that you can take immediate action and escape the threat.
Your Autonomic Nervous System kicks in and shuts down all unnecessary functions, such as digestion. Next, it triggers a flood of energy into your bloodstream in the form of glucose and fatty acids.
Normally, this flood of energy would trigger a huge insulin response from your pancreas. Insulin would break this excess energy down, so the brain releases cortisol. Among other things, cortisol inhibits the action of insulin and blocks insulin receptors. The glucose and fatty acids are free to go straight to your muscles, helping you to act quickly and jump out of the car’s path.
Now this is a perfectly healthy reaction to danger, and once you’ve escaped the threat, your stress response will wind down and your body will return to normal. But your stress response doesn’t distinguish between an oncoming car and a fight with your boss, so you can find yourself experiencing these effects even when you’re not in any danger.
If you’re chronically or frequently stressed, your body exists in this state of high alert constantly. You’re always anticipating the need for energy, so your body holds on to any excess fat it can get. It often breaks down muscle tissue for extra energy, too, which can slow down your metabolism.
Your cortisol levels remain high, which affects how well your body produces insulin and converts energy. Since you’re prioritizing essential functions, your digestion takes a back seat, and because you’re so wired, you can’t sleep properly either. This makes you more prone to cravings, and less likely to exercise.
When you look at what’s going on inside, it’s easy to see how stress hormones can contribute to weight gain! Even worse, it typically gathers around the abdomen, so if a flat stomach or firm abs are your goal, stress and cortisol are your worst enemies! And if your health is a concern, you won’t be pleased to know that abdominal fat is one of the key risk factors in chronic diseases like diabetes, coronary heart disease, and cancer.
Take control of your stress levels
As you can see, the connection between stress and weight runs deeper than we often realize, and the implications are serious. The best way to fight stress-related weight gain and protect your health is to reduce your stress levels, but modern life doesn’t make it easy! If you need support, I can help.
I’m offering you a 7-day trial of my membership site, Limitless. Here, you’ll find a number of powerful hypnosis and visualization sessions for effective stress reduction and long-lasting weight loss.
The focus is on rooting out the subconscious causes of emotional eating, eliminating cravings, developing healthy habits, and learning positive responses to stress.
So if you’re worried about your stress levels and your weight, now is the time to take action!
Start your 7-day trial now...