Can Stress Make You Fat?

Could being stressed cause you to gain fat? Could stress prevent you from dropping that oversized waistline? This is what researchers from University College London wanted to know. What they found out might surprise you.

“When people are facing a stressful situation, a chain reaction is set off in the body that results in the release of cortisol, leading to higher levels of this hormone in the body,” said lead study author Sarah Jackson of University College London.

“Cortisol is involved in a broad range of biological processes, including metabolism, body composition and the accumulation of body fat,” Jackson said by email. “When we’re stressed out we may also find it more difficult to find the motivation to go for a run or resist unhealthy foods.”

It is a well-established fact that cortisol is a hormone that is released when the body is under stress (physical and/or emotional). A person who has an unhealthy level of stress WILL have unhealthy levels of cortisol.

Researchers analyzed cortisol levels that accumulated in hair of 2,527 men and women aged 54 for 4 years. The researchers tracked weight, waist circumference, and body mass index (BMI). The researchers confirmed a link between chronic stress and body fat gain, as well as difficulty releasing excessive weight. The subjects who were classified as obese based on waist circumference and BMI had distinct high levels of hair cortisol. Another trend the researchers noticed was that obesity tented to persist over time with those subjects with the highest cortisol levels.

Dr. Jim LaValle, a nationally recognized clinical pharmacist, author, board certified clinical nutritionist, founder of Metabolic Code Enterprises, Inc., explains further:

Chronic stress depletes certain neurotransmitters in the brain, which can trigger carbohydrate cravings and eating binges. If this scenario continues the lack of neurotransmitters can lead to disturbed sleep patterns, which in turn can cause changes in the release of growth hormone, blood sugar regulation, and immune function.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels can also cause increased insulin release and lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can result in abdominal weight gain. If the person is eating the sugar and carbohydrates to quell the stress and to try to build the neurotransmitters, the insulin resistance is fed, which in turn perpetuates the weight gain.

What are you to do?

Understand that being stressed WILL make you gain fat. While stress itself may not be the specific reason you gain the fat, a “chain reaction” will take place with the hormones which will effect your healthy lifestyle. It WILL impact your ability to excercise or even eat healthy. Instead incorporate activities which are focused more on mind/body and not just high impact stressful workouts. Use Yoga, meditation, walking in nature, etc as many times as you can in a week to help yourself relax and reduce the stress you have in your life.

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