In times of stress, our health sometimes goes out the window. In fact, when you’re particularly stressed out, you might notice an unpleasant side effect cropping up, which in turn makes you feel even more overwhelmed: weight gain.
Why does weight gain often accompany stress? It’s not just some cruel joke that the universe is playing on you: it’s a biological response to stress. We explore the details below.
The Link Between Stress & Weight Gain
Our brains trigger certain hormones when a threat is detected. These include adrenaline, cortisol, and Corticotropin-releasing hormone, or CRH. To prepare you to meet the stress head-on, your brain and body effectively make you very alert. While adrenaline may curb hunger in the short term, when it wears off, cortisol takes over, telling your body to refuel.
This would have been handy for our ancestors who expended lots of energy during stressful situations — running from predators, for example — but unfortunately, the evolutionary process hasn’t caught up with our modern needs. Thus, our hormones still make us reach for food in times of stress, even if we haven’t really engaged in calorie-burning “fight or flight” activity.
Our hormones don’t just trigger the desire to eat — they also affect where our fat is stored. Typically, stress-induced weight gain comes in the form of “visceral fat” in the abdomen. As if the extra poundage on the midsection wasn’t bad enough, an excess of abdominal fat cells can cause an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Think about the food you reach for when you’re stressed. Chances are, it’s not an apple or a light salad. Typically, we crave unhealthy carbs during times of stress. This is thanks to our increased cortisol levels, which make us crave high-carbohydrate foods. Once we indulge and feel comforted by foods full of starch or sugar, our bodies release serotonin, a brain chemical that produces a calming effect. While the serotonin takes effect, our bodies take note. This makes us more likely to reach for the same comforting, carb-filled foods in future times of stress.
That pesky hormone cortisol also affects your metabolism. Essentially, our bodies are trained to go into “survival mode” in stressful moments, leading to slowed metabolism and increased fuel storage. This means even if you’re eating the same amount of calories as usual, an increase in cortisol can still make your metabolism stagnate. This will lead to weight gain and also make it difficult to lose weight through dieting alone.
Stress is often related to a cluttered schedule, which means you might not feel you have the time to eat well or work out. As a result, you might grab more fast food and collapse on the couch at the end of the night.
While you might think you’re too busy to life a healthy lifestyle, the truth is that doing so will help you eliminate stress, and it doesn’t have to take much time! Our Weight Loss blog is full of ideas for quick, healthy snacks and meals that are easy to make and delicious to boot. And with the variety of Power Hours offered at our nationwide TITLE Boxing Club locations, you’re sure to find a kickboxing or boxing fitness class to fit your schedule.
Don’t let your stress cause weight gain. To get started with your stress-busting workout, find your local TITLE Boxing Club today!