Current studies show stress produces a domino effect on the body, eventually causing weight gain. For example, stress due to a busy work schedule or personal problem might make eating right and exercising low priorities, leading to weight gain. Another theory is that people sleep less when they are stressed out, which causes a dip in leptin, a hormone that helps temper the appetite.
When your body really just wants rest, you may misinterpret the dip in leptin as a sign of hunger.
Cortisol is a stress hormone that is also linked to weight gain. It causes the ‘fight or flight’ reaction people experience under acute stress or threat. Our bodies were wired to have this reaction as a survival mechanism against predators. In today’s world, stress mostly comes from emotional triggers that don’t require a physical response, but may prompt stress-related overeating. It is healthiest to deal with acute stress by burning off the excess energy, or calories through physical activity.
When the calories are not burned off, they are often stored in the body as fat.
For some reason, fat is commonly stored in the belly. Belly fat poses a greater health risk than fat stored anywhere else in the body. Herbal supplements are hot on the market for stress reduction, but no sound studies have supported their claims to lower cortisol levels. Behavioral methods of stress reduction may be more effective: practicing yoga, managing time better, and becoming more assertive. Believe it or not, you can change your body’s reactions to stress the moment it hits. If you eat under pressure, find other alternatives to help you relax instead. Even waiting just ten more minutes after food cravings occur can calm the body into relaxation and will prevent overeating.
A Healthy Weight for Life is an AICR brochure designed to structure eating and exercise habits. To order a free copy, call toll-free 1-800-843-8114, ext. 111, 9:00 a.m-5:00 p.m. ET, Monday- Friday.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) www.aicr.org.