I know this is a happy time of the year, what, with not just one, but at least four holidays piling up on each other (depending on what holidays you choose to recognize). With all those holidays, the travel, the spending, the parties, the eating, I want to remind you that you might just be a teeny bit under stress. And you might gain weight.
What is Stress and Why Would it Make Me Gain Weight?
Stress is one of those larger than life terms that hovers over you like a big umbrella. It’s so loaded with many different meanings for each of us, but ultimately ends up doing the same thing. There is good stress, for example, from exercising really vigorously. Hard work but satisfying. There is also bad stress, or chronic stress. Stress is a word that can be used when everything around us seems to be too much.
What Happens When We Are Under Stress?
Way back, when we needed to run from dinosaurs and other dangers, we humans developed a fight or flight response to help us move fast. Stress was useful because it got our heart rate moving, our muscles tensed up, increased certain necessary hormones and gave us a heightened state of awareness. It got us moving when we needed it. Danger over, we would go back to a calm state.
Fast forward to life today. Although most of us are no longer getting chased by wild beasts, modern life has put most of us under a state of chronic stress. Rather than going back to a calm state, many of us live in a constant state of worry, anxiety, emotional and mental strain that we put on ourselves (or that gets put on us) for a variety of reasons and circumstances. This heightened state keeps cortisol levels raised (the stress hormone), which in turn wreaks havoc on our chances for maintaining a healthy weight. From a physiological perspective cortisol slows down digestion, increases glucose into the bloodstream (which in turn leads to belly fat) and disrupts sleep (read my post about sleep HERE).
From an emotional standpoint, stress has been shown to increase anxiety, depression and sadness. Food, specifically carbohydrates, gives a false sense of comfort to many of us chronically stressed humans. The result? Weight gain.
What To Do About Chronic Stress
First, realize the important role stress plays on weight gain. Learning to handle your stressors and relaxing should be priority. How to relax? Here are some thoughts:
- Eat Well. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean protein. They all help level out stress in a variety of ways
- Write down your feelings in a journal that is meant only for you
- Make getting 8 hours of sleep a night a priority
- Try a yoga or tai chi class
- Listen to soothing music
- Unleash yourself from the things that stress you out in the first place
What do you think about stress and weight gain? Do you eat more under stress? Have you been under chronic stress and seen your weight creep up? Share your important thoughts in the comments below.