Does stress make you fat? Weight gain and stressful habits

Stress is a natural reaction of the body to the demands of the environment. This response induces changes at the physiological level, also affecting the metabolism, causing the mobilization of the resources necessary to meet the demands of the environment.

It is for this reason that it is not difficult to find people who say that stress affects their weight, especially increasing the question: Does stress make you fat? Let’s see the answer below.

    Is it true that stress makes you fat?

    As we have said, stress is a physiological and adaptive response of the body, which enables it to cope with a situation that is perceived as threatening. The body mobilizes the necessary resources to maintain its physical or mental integrity, And therefore induces changes at the physiological level, as well as in the 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 called stress hormones, And are responsible for speeding up the heart rate, causing the heart to pump more blood to muscles and other organs, preparing the body for fight or flight.

    Normally, when the threat disappears, the brain sends the command to stop, in order to calm down before the appearance of the stressful stimulus. The problem is that sometimes it is difficult to return to a stress-free state, prolonging the effect of this response on the body and contributing to the development of various health problems. Even this stress, depending on the personality traits of the person, it can appear and remain in the absence of real danger.

    Since stress changes internal aspects of the body and its maintenance leads to health problems, it has been shown to induce weight changes as well, both by gaining weight and losing weight.

    Factors influencing the body’s response to stressful states

    As we have said, stress induces a number of changes in the body, involving the release of various hormones which can alter a person’s constitution and weight. Depending on different factors, stress can make us gain weight, lose weight or maintain our weight.

    1. Genetics

    One of the main factors influencing weight gain or loss is genetics and their interaction with the environment. There are people who, when stressed, gain a few extra pounds, while others lose a lot of weight.

    2. Types of stress

    Not all types of stress have the same effect on the same person. Acute or short-term stress has been shown to induce weight loss, while chronic stress, prolonged over time, contributes to weight gain.

    3. Lifestyle changes

    Lifestyle prompts one to adopt one behavior or another in the face of a stressful situation, although it can also be severely affected by stress itself.

    For example, there are people who, when stressed, try to play sports to let off steam, While other people go to the fridge to calm down. It is in this second case that the relationship between stress and weight gain is much clearer.

    But there are times when, even being a very active and athletic person, going through a lot of stress can lead to changes in decision making, forcing you to resort to food to feel gratification.

    4. Mood

    Stress caused by negative circumstances and associated with depression, Has been linked to weight gain.

    How does stress make you fat?

    As we have already mentioned, the factors that influence weight gain or loss are different. Below, we will see exactly what are the mechanisms that make you fat under the effect of stress.

    1. Hormones

    Stress involves changes in the blood levels of certain hormones. The adrenal glands, in a state of stress, cause the secretion of cortisol. Cortisol increases blood sugar, In order to provide all the energy and resources necessary for the body.

    If this glucose is not used, it remains in the blood. Since it does not burn, the body accumulates it as fat. For this reason, stress causes you to gain weight even without food, because it is the body itself that turns its resources into fat.

    This way, accumulated fat increases and fluids are retained due to high levels of cortisol in the blood. For this reason, the idea of ​​the stress with which the stomach is fattened has been linked.

    In addition, and as a side effect of this whole process, the cells demand more energy, which leads to increased appetite. If cortisol levels remain very high for a long time, a medical condition develops, hypercortisolism, which is a symptom of chronic stress.

    This increases resistance to insulin, a hormone responsible for promoting the uptake of glucose into cells.

    Another hormone called ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is also secreted during the stress response.. Its function is to induce appetite through the intake of calories, as well as to promote the accumulation of fat (adiposity) in the body.

      2. Behavior changes

      Stress involves changes in the behavior of those who suffer from it, since it is a response to mobilize the resources at their disposal to come out of the stressful situation in question alive. It can encourage changes in lifestyle and health habits, affecting weight.

      Lack of time and a fast-paced lifestyle can increase the likelihood of consuming pre-prepared foods, Such as junk food, which is high in calories, high in fat, low in quality and low in nutrients, in addition to reducing physical activity and playing sports.

      3. Emotions

      In stressful situations, the hormones serotonin and dopamine are reduced. These hormones are part of the brain reward system. This is why, when reduced, there is a search for rewards, especially in the form of tasty food, which is pleasant and rewarding.

      These types of foods, called comfort foods, have high levels of fats and sugars, are high in calories, and promote weight gain.

        How to Avoid Gaining Weight Due to Stress

        The best way to avoid gaining weight due to stress is to try and manage this stress and the associated urge to eat. It is important that any attempt to avoid stressing weight gain is not just because you want to be slim, but because you want to be healthy, both physically and psychologically.

        1. Eat anti-stress foods

        Eating a diet rich in vegetables, especially fruits and vegetables, is a very good option to avoid gaining weight due to stress.. They contain many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for the proper functioning of the body.

        But it is also very important to consume protein, found in eggs, meats and legumes, helping to satiate the appetite and to control the levels of glucose and insulin.

        Foods high in omega-3s, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, spinach, and chia, increase levels of tryptophan, which is a precursor to the well-known hormone of happiness, serotonin.

        2. Avoid stressful foods

        Just as there are foods that relieve stress, there are some that contribute to stress, and they can also be the direct cause of fat.

        Foods high in sugar should be avoided, as well as those that are heavily processed or artificialAs they increase blood sugar and deregulate insulin levels.

        3. Don’t abuse exciting substances

        The exciting substances include alcohol, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and nicotine. They increase blood pressure, increased anxiety levels, which in turn opens up more hunger.

        4. Plan meals

        To avoid falling into temptation, it is best to try to plan meals, establish a schedule of when and what to eat, and try to get the necessary and sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats. in each meal, in addition to avoiding having a calorie intake. surplus at the end of the day.

        5. Sleep hygiene

        The quality of sleep influences emotional regulationIt makes us feel more stressed and more eager to eat tasty foods when we haven’t slept the recommended 6-8 hours a day.

        6. Engage in physical activity

        In addition to being the best strategy for losing or avoiding weight gain, exercise counteracts stress. Increases endorphins in the brain, Generating a feeling of happiness and satisfaction, in addition to which, once the physical activity is carried out, it induces a very therapeutic state of relaxation.

        7. Identify the source of stress

        Gaining weight is just one effect of stress, and what worries us the most are the negative effects on our health of this prolonged stress. We need to do an introspection exercise and try to understand where this stress is coming from, What are the causes. So, once identified, we can look for resources to deal with it.

        In case you are not sure where it could be coming from, seeking the help of a psychologist is a very good option, as he or she will give us guidelines and treatment strategies to uncover the source of the discomfort. and know how to deal with it.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Baratucci, I. (2011). Stress and nutrition.
        • Van Jaarsveld, CH, Fidler, JA, Steptoe, A., Boniface, D. and Wardle, J. (2009). Perceived stress and weight gain in adolescence: longitudinal analysis. Obesity, 17 (12), 2155-2161.
        • Yau, YH and Potenza, MN (2013). Stress and eating behaviors. Minerva endocrinologica, 38 (3), 255.
        • Brydon, L. (2011). Adiposity, leptin and stress reactivity in humans. Biological Psychology, 86 (2), 114-120.

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