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Stress Linked to Obesity

Categories: Executive Health

How Your Stress Level Can Affect Your Health and How to Break the Cycle

Alarm clocks, traffic jams, deadlines, bank accounts and the dog barking across the street in the middle of the night can all be contributing to your body’s battle with obesity.

According to continuing research1, stress has been linked to biochemical changes in your body that trigger cravings for a bag of potato chips instead of reaching for an apple.

People often allow stress to control their eating habits. Working under deadline at work may mean it’s easier to grab a burger and soda at a drive-thru rather than taking the time to make lunches at home. Unfortunately, as stress may cause people to eat unhealthy foods and gain weight, the extra pounds cause further stress, extending the cycle. The body’s feel-good chemical – serotonin – plays a major role in what your body craves.

As you find yourself drawn to sweets, pasta or potatoes (what we affectionately refer to as comfort foods), your body is encouraging you to self-medicate with carbohydrates, which raise the body’s serotonin level. More often than not, the carbohydrates you ingest are full of fat2.

Chronic stress can contribute to the excess release of cortisol by the body. Cortisol manages fat storage in the body, how the body uses energy and even helps with the development of short-term memories in the brain. As more cortisol is released while experiencing stress, it can increase your appetite and can leave you yearning for sugary or fatty foods3.

A lesser known hormone in the body, neuropeptide, also plays a role in how our bodies process food while undergoing continual stress. While experiencing stress, nerve cells in the body release neuropeptide that encourages fat accumulation and increases the body’s desire to take in more foods high in fat and sugar4.

If stress enables your body to work against you and your goals, how do you break the cycle?

Calm down. Eating properly and taking a few minutes to exercise or just relax can work miracles for how your body deals with stress. Finding time to stretch, spend time with friends and taking a short walk around the block will help your body combat the hormones that may be working against you.

Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry. If you’re the type of person who gets the evil look in your eye when you haven’t been fed, be cautious and prepared – bring healthy snacks in your bag or keep a few in your car5.

Keep portion size in mind. After a stressful meeting or getting out of a traffic jam, it is understandable that you may want to eat the plate your food is served on. Starting out with small portions, chewing each bite and pausing to put your fork down can help limit your calorie intake.

Eat healthy snacks. The best snacks are ones that combine more than one food group. Peanut butter and celery sticks, cheese and small tomatoes or even a handful or nuts or pack of yogurt are easy choices to avoid snacks high in fat and sugar.

In addition to weight gain, stress has been linked to numerous emotional and physical disorders6including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • heart attacks
  • stroke
  • hypertension
  • immune system disturbances that increase susceptibility to infections
  • a host of viral linked disorders ranging from the common cold and herpes to AIDS and even certain cancers
  • autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis
If stress is getting the better of you, we strongly recommend taking the time to talk to a specialist or your primary care physician before more serious issues occur.

Written by Leeann Garms
[1] http://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/food-and-mood/stress-and-dieting/stress-and-other-causes-of-obesity.aspx
[2] http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-10-05/health/sc-health-1005-stress-eating-20111005_1_stress-cortisol-levels-mary-dallman
[3] http://www.medical-hypotheses.com/article/S0306-9877(11)00113-7/abstract
[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19120115
[5] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100901145250.htm
[6] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071009164122.htm