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7 Ways Stress Leads To Weight Gain

Most of us know that stress is not good for our health. But it also disrupts our bodies in many ways that make us gain weight. Do you make time to relax? Even - or perhaps especially -when things are stressful. Does the thought of having to find time to relax feel like yet another pressure? If so it's probably a sign you really need it!

Here are 7 ways stress makes you gain weight:

1) Stress makes you eat more, particularly calorific foods

The stress hormone cortisol increases your appetite, particularly for high sugar, high fat foods. As part of the stress response, your body thinks you need to refuel. This is because we are designed to have a fight-or-flight response to stress and fighting or running away uses up a lot of energy. (But modern stresses, such as sitting at your desk fuming, being stuck in traffic or technology playing up, don’t burn a lot of calories!)

2) Stress encourages fat storage, particularly around your belly

When you are stressed, you may gain weight - even if you don’t eat more. Stress hormones cause you to gain belly fat. This is because your body is still on stress alert and belly fat is close to your liver, which can quickly convert it to energy to fuel another fight-or-flight response.

3) Stress makes it harder to balance your blood sugar levels - and increases insulin resistance

Stress can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. If they go too high, you release more insulin to get the excess sugar out of your blood. High insulin gives your body the message to store fat. Having constantly high insulin levels can make your cells less sensitive to it, ultimately leading to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. This makes it harder to lose weight.

4) Stress impacts your female hormones

Stress has a knock-on effect your female hormones. When your female hormones are out of balance, you are likely to gain weight.

5) Stress increases inflammation

Stress increases inflammation in our bodies and inflammation leads to weight gain. (Obesity has been described as an inflammatory disease.)

6) Chronic stress can affect gut permeability

When we are under prolonged stress this can cause our gut lining to become more permeable than it should be. This is known as ‘leaky’ gut - and it leads to food intolerances. This can cause weight gain as we often crave foods we are intolerant to. Additionally ‘leaky gut’ is a major source of inflammation which can lead to weight gain.

7) Stress can affect your metabolism, so you burn less calories

Stress impacts your thyroid which controls your metabolism. You need the stress hormone cortisol to convert your thyroid hormone T4 into the stronger and more active T3. However, too much cortisol hinders this conversion. So if your metabolism is slow, it is important to address your stress levels.

If you need more reasons to convince you to prioritise relaxation, research puts stress as “the common risk factor of 75%–90% diseases, including the diseases which cause the foremost morbidity and mortality”.(1)

The good news is - if you reduce your stress, not only does it become easier to lose weight, you are also protecting your long term health.

(1) Liu Y.Z. et al., 2017, Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases, Front Hum Neurosci., 11: 316.

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