We all feel stressed at times. Deadlines, demanding children, traffic jams, mounting bills -the list goes on. But can stress affect our ability to lose weight? Is stress making you fat? Lets find out.
Stress is the emotional and physical strain we experience whenever we feel pressurized and unable to cope with a situation. Besides dizziness, restlessness, lack of energy, depression, constipation and irritability, chronic stress also has been studied to contribute to weight gain. The cause of this weight gain is most likely to be a combination of hormonal and psychological factors.
When we are under stress for a prolonged period, the so-called “stress hormone” cortisol is released in the body along with the hormones epinephrine and nor epinephrine. Once the stressful episode is over, the epinephrine and nor epinephrine levels return to normal while cortisol levels can remain elevated over a longer time period. And these persistent raised levels of cortisol results in metabolism slow down and alteration in your blood glucose levels. Increased levels of cortisol contribute to mood swings, cravings for unhealthy food options and also causes you to eat more than you normally would, thus causing weight gain.
In order to meet the demands of a stressful event, our body needs extra energy and cortisol helps in meeting this demand by stimulating the fat and carbohydrate metabolism. The end result of these actions is an increase in appetite which again leads to weight gain or difficulty in losing unwanted kilos.
Cortisol not only promotes weight gain, but it can also affect where you put on the weight. Researchers have shown that stress and elevated cortisol tend to cause more fat deposition in the abdominal area, a precursor to many heart related disorders. So, if you are gaining weight, you definitely need to watch your stress levels.
Proper nutrition is an effective way of dealing with stress. There are certain dietary guidelines to reverse the pattern of weight gain and actually aid in reducing your stress levels and waistline at the same time.
Increasing intake of complex carbohydrates is thought to increase the amount of serotonin in your brain, which has a calming effect. Complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables take longer to digest than sugary simple carbs like white bread, so you stay fuller longer and your blood sugar is likely to stay steady, eliminating stress and anxiety. Excess intake of sugar can however worsen the anxiety, irritability, and of course your weight loss efforts.
Eat frequent small meals during the day as keeping long gaps between meals or skipping meals can result in low blood sugar. The preferred strategy to keep weight in check would be to eat after every 3-4 hours. Try to keep healthy snacks like fruits, nuts, roasted chana, khakhras, etc handy.
Calcium, magnesium, zinc, inositol, choline, and the amino acids tryptophan and taurine are among the “sedative” nutrients, hence maintaining adequate intake of these nutrients through milk, green leafy vegetables, eggs, sesame seeds, nuts, whole grains and soybean help to de stress.
Stay well-hydrated by drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water everyday. Even mild dehydration can affect your mood, increasing cortisol levels and hence your appetite and weight.
Excess of coffee, tea, cigarettes, coke and alcohol stimulate an adrenal response in your body provoking release of cortisol and also depleting the body of necessary vitamins and minerals that help balance our mood and nervous system. Instead try chamomile and green tea to sooth your senses.
Have a lot of fresh fruits, juices, watery soups and vegetable broths. These juices not only provide you with antioxidants, vital nutrients and fiber, but also provide satiety, thus controlling compulsive overeating.
Taking B complex supplements are helpful in bringing relaxation or energy to individuals who are stressed or fatigued
Herbs like ginkgo biloba and St. Johns wort help to boost serotonin levels (the `feel good’ neurotransmitter)
Be physically active. Besides keeping your weight at bay, regular exercise releases endorphins that put you at ease and give you an all around sense of well being.
Include essential fatty acids in your diet through nuts, fish and fish oil supplements as they have been shown to greatly reduce your emotional eating tendencies under stress.
Relieve your anxiety or stress by laughing, meditating, yoga and any activity, which relaxes you. This increases the endorphin levels to your brain and decreases the amount of stress hormones circulating.
Get enough sleep. Research has shown there may be a connection between lack of sleep and weight gain
Remember, stress is not really caused by the situation we encounter but our attitude towards it. If you just can’t change a stressful situation, try changing the way you react to it. Stress by itself is not harmful- it is the way you deal with it that makes all the difference. With proper care which includes exercise, healthy diet, and proper nutritional supplementation, you will have a great defense in battling stress and shedding unwanted weight, whilst maintaining a healthy life.