Stress and Weight Gain
Stress and Weight Gain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a whopping 73.6% of Americans are overweight or obese. Coincidentally, about 77% of Americans report stress that impacts their physical health.

Why and How We Get Stressed

Stress is hardwired into us for safety. When faced with perceived dangers, our body’s sympathetic nervous system releases adrenaline. Our heart rate and respiration increases, muscles tense, skin flushes and pupils dilate. We’re ready to fight off or flee something. This enables us to jump to avoid a speeding car even before realizing what’s happening. It’s a survival mechanism.

However, when our fight or flight response is triggered too often for too long, we can develop chronic stress.

This stuck stress response overexposes us to cortisol and other stress hormones. This in turn causes muscle tension, sleeps issues, headaches, digestive troubles, anxiety/depression, memory problems, risk of cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction.

It can also lead to unhealthy weight gain. The stress hormone cortisol will increase appetite, especially of high calorie/high fat foods, and slows metabolism.

Reversing Stress Weight Gain

Use these tips and create a less stressed, healthier you.

  • Accept yourself. Body shaming only increases stress.
  • Stock your pantry with healthy grab-and-go snacks. Also, learn to swap out high fat/high calories ingredients in your favorite comfort foods.
  • Aim to get at least 30 minutes total of exercise most days. Walk, swim, garden, bike, or do yoga, calisthenics, or sports.
  • Drink plenty of water. We often mistake thirst for hunger.
  • Adopt a bedtime ritual and try to get at least 7 hours a night.
  • Be mindful when eating. Don’t watch TV or open your phone or laptop while munching or you’ll likely overeat mindlessly.
  • Ask yourself when you reach for a snack, “Am I actually hungry now?” If unsure, get busy with a task or take a walk. Sometimes just delaying a craving will eliminate it.
  • Do food prep on the weekend. Prepping a set healthy menu will take pressure off during the week.
  • Walk in nature, like a park, for extra stress relief.
  • Practice meditation and breathing exercises.
  • Restrict worry to one set time a day.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Get a massage. It lowers cortisol and leaves you relaxed.
  • Have a self-care list to pick from each day. Aim to have a daily dedicated time for joy.
  • Volunteer to help others, and it will help you, too.
  • Cultivate healthy friendships. That means making time for a call, a lunch or an evening out.