Is Stress Making You Gain Weight?

The more research is conducted on stress, the more we’re realising just how bad it is for our health.  Heart disease, digestive issues, poor mental health and so much more has been linked to living a high-stress lifestyle.  But if you’re not suffering from any of those problems, it can be really easy to ignore the effect that stress is having on you.  What you may not have considered is the impact your stress level is having on your weight.

Unfortunately for our waistlines, our physical stress response as humans is a little bit outdated – it hasn’t exactly caught up to our current lifestyles.  Today, our stress mostly comes from balancing and juggling the myriad of things going on in our life at any one time – work deadlines, family responsibilities, finding time to prepare nutritious food and exercise regularly, all whilst maintaining a healthy social life and looking after our finances and spending quality time with our partner… it’s a lot, and it’s fairly constant!  For our ancestors, stress was usually a threat of some kind, like being chased by a bear or struggling through a drought and not knowing when your next meal would be.  Short and quick bursts of stress in response to stressful situations – after which their bodies could recoup and recover from said stressor.

But in today/s world?  Rest is rare.  Our stress is ongoing, it’s always there, it’s chronic stress.  And how the heck does this all relate to weight loss, I hear you ask!  I’m going to explain it the simplest way I can – ignore the big words, they’re not important anyway.

When you are faced with stress, your body prepares for fight or flight.  You probably remember this term from your year 10 biology class.  What this means is that your body is gearing up to either fight the stressor (e.g. fight the bear that’s chasing you) or flight from the stressor (e.g. run away from the bear that’s chasing you.. a much smarter choice in my opinion, if it truly is a bear that you’re facing!).  Whether you are going to fight or flight, your body needs energy to do so.

So, your body will start to free up any stored glycogen (the storage form of glucose, from carbs and sugar) and convert it back into glucose, transport it to your muscles and around your body so that you have this quick hit of energy, from glucose (sugar), when you’re ready to face your stressor.  In the bear scenario, you would use up all that glucose as energy when you’re running away from the bear – that’s what your stress response is there for!  But what happens when the stress you’re facing is actually a work deadline and you’re sitting at your computer using little energy apart from your fingers frantically typing away at the keyboard?  Well, your body is still going to prepare for a fight or flight response.  And the glycogen and glucose is still going to be released.  And then when you don’t actually use up that energy, the glucose molecules can be turned into triglycerides (fats) and stored as body fat.  Are you starting to understand how stress can cause weight gain?

Stress = glucose released from liver + lack of energy output = glucose converted into fat = increased body fat

So how do you reduce the impact that stress has on your weight?  Well that’s a whole separate blog post.  But for now, try to become aware of the impact that stress is having on you and your health, including your weight, and try to find a middle ground between ‘busy’ and rest.

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