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