How Stress Leads to Weight Gain

It’s no secret that Americans have to deal with a lot of stress. A survey from The American Institute of Stress found that a third of respondents had experienced extreme stressful feelings at some point or another. Unfortunately, all this stress can lead to numerous health issues, including unwanted weight gain.

Stress forces the body to undergo a wide range of changes. For example, certain muscles might tighten up, and the afflicted person may develop a headache. Additionally, the body’s adrenal glands – located just above our kidneys – will react to stressful situations by releasing a hormone known as cortisol into the bloodstream. Once the stressful event has passed and your body calms down, your blood levels of cortisol should return to a lower, normal level.

But what about people who are constantly dealing with stress-inducing situations? Such individuals often have elevated levels of cortisol coursing through their veins. As you can imagine, this can lead to significant health problems, including a steady increase in body weight.

Stuck in the Middle

Those with high levels of cortisol often find themselves dealing with a ravenous appetite. This is because cortisol is an appetite stimulant. Consequently, stressed-out people often turn to unhealthy foods to satiate their cravings. The problem doesn’t stop there; when under stress, such excess calories tend to wind up congregating around the mid-sections of our bodies.

Aside from inducing refrigerator raids, recent research suggests that stress slows down the body’s metabolism. This study, published in 2015 in the journal Biol Psychiatry, a small group of 58 women were asked to consume either a high saturated fat meal or a high oleic sunflower oil meal. Prior to this meal, each participant was required to complete an interview with the study authors, during which they were asked questions regarding stressful events they had experienced.

When the women had finished their meals, the study authors then set about measuring the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide going in and out of the women’s lungs; this was accomplished with the aid of masks. The team was then able to determine each participant’s metabolism. Sure enough, women who dealt with more stress wound up burning fewer calories.

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