Weight Gain Due To Stress And The Facts

Many people get fat because of obvious reasons like poor diet and lack of body movement while others suffer from weight gain due to stress and depression. And while it is easy to drink black tea to loose weight. When it comes to stress as the origin of that excess fat, tea drinking is not enough.

We have been very focused on weight loss and our posts of recent have been tailored towards that end. But I think it is time we make a shift to another angle of the body fat issue.

And that would be about focusing on weight gain. To talk about the various habits and issues that lead to weight gain instead of a total aim at just how to loose weight topics.

And the theme for this post is STRESS and how it can led to unwanted weight gain. Most people are ignorant of the fact that weight gain due to stress is a serious issue because of the role cortisol plays in forming bad eating habits.

Weight Gain Due To Stress

It would amaze you to know that both depression and stress promote obesity. There is an established association between stressful events and weight gain, as well as adiposity.

When the levels of cortisol in our body stay high for too long, this hormone can lead to not just weight gain but even more chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, disruptive sleep patterns, negative mood, reduced energy levels and increased risk for diabetes.

Cortisol or the stress hormone is released by the adrenal cortex as a response to all forms of stress, including both emotional and physical kind. It also aids in the body’s anti-inflammatory response and the conversion of stored fat to energy during exercise. 

But too much cortisol in response to a disrupted “flight or fight” response can lead to excess weight- especially around your middle section.

Some studies suggest that chronic stress and stressful life events encourages the development of the metabolic syndrome, which at it’s core favours central obesity. [1]

Cortisol is an important player when it comes to human nutrition. It helps regulate energy by selecting the right type and amount of substrate (carbohydrate, fat, or protein) the body needs to meet the physiological demands placed on it.

Read: Is Sleep Important For Weight Loss?

It was discovered that psychosocial stress was associated with greater weight gain among both men and women with higher baseline body mass indexes if they experienced job-related demands, had difficulty paying bills, or had depression or generalized anxiety disorder.

There was greater weight gain among women with perceived constraints in life and strain in relations with family . While among men the association between stress and weight gain was greater in those with lack of skill choices or decision authority at their place of work. [2]

It seems when it comes to weight gain and stress, gender also influences how weight gain is affected among the sexes.

In a study of high school students aged 15–19 years, caloric consumption increased on days with stressful events for girls but not for boys even though the boys also increase their fat intake.

Similarly, among college students, women consumed more calories than men when exposed to a stressful film. [3]

Weight gain due to stress

Studies have documented higher snack food consumption in women with high stress-induced cortisol levels. The study also provided a population-based evidence that chronic work stress predicts general and central obesity. [4]

“There are several ways stress can lead to weight gain,” says Ariana M. Chao, PhD, RN, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia. “People may eat as a way to cope with stress and as a way to make themselves feel better.”

Our hormones are triggered when we are faced with challenges. In the face of danger or stressful events our body secretes adrenaline, CRH, and cortisol to help us cope with the task before us.

The adrenaline rush would initially help you feel less hungry as blood flow away from the internal organs, to your large muscles to prepare for what is known as the “fight or flight response”.

But once the effects of adrenaline wear off, the “stress hormone,” known as cortisol that was also released hangs around and starts signaling the body to replenish your food supply.

Evolutionary cues has taught the body to believe that whenever adrenaline is released when we face stressors, we expend energy to fight off the threat. And that calls for another session of feeding to refill whatever energy that was used.

Unfortunately we don’t spend as much energy as our ancestors when we are stressed. They had to fight off real threats (wild beasts) that involved using physical strength but these days our stressors are more emotional and psychological in nature.

“In the short term, adrenaline usually makes people feel less hungry,” says Dr. Chao. “However, with chronic stress, adrenaline’s effects on appetite wear off and cortisol starts to urge the body to replenish your energy stores. For some people, this tends to result in weight gain”. [5]

Unlike our ancestors who would actively use energy to fight off stressors in their lives. Modern day response to stress is to sit and languish in our frustration and anger, without actually expending any of the calories that we would if we were physically fighting our way out of a wild animal hunt.

Misleading our neuroendocrine system, that is unaware that we are not physically fighting or fleeing. And so it still responds to stress with the hormonal signal to replenish nutritional stores which only leads to hunger. This can lead to weight gain and a tendency to store “visceral fat” around the midsection.

The main issue when it comes to stress and weight gain is that modern humans respond mentally to stress, instead of the evolutionary way of either physically fighting or fleeing which involves energy expenditure.

Unlike our ancestors whose stressors had a more concrete beginning and ending, which is properly divided into hunting and defending. What we have today is a continuous stress flow tied around family issues, work expectations and societal burdens. Which is more emotion and psychological in nature than physical.

“Elevated cortisol levels disrupt the body’s blood glucose control by stimulating glucose secretion from stores in the liver and limiting the release of the hormone responsible for removing excess glucose from the blood stream, insulin,” says Dr Buchwald-Werner. 

“This results in high blood sugar levels. Eventually, more insulin is secreted to remove the excess glucose once cortisol levels have dropped, but this cycle results in poor glucose control which also makes losing weight very difficult as the excess glucose can be stored as fat. Therefore, managing cortisol and insulin levels are both important when trying to lose weight.” [6]

The increased level of the stress hormone is also known for causing higher insulin levels, which in itself spikes your blood sugar levels and forces you to crave sugary and fatty foods.

Creating a cycle that can only be best described in the following way “More stress = more cortisol = higher appetite for junk food = more belly fat,” .

The beauty about weight gain due to stress is in the fact that it brings to the table the need to be aware of the foods we eat on a daily basis and the need to factor stress management as part of a naturally healthy life plan.

It is important to note at this junction that cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells while also aiding adipocytes’ development into mature fat cells. More of these enzymes in the visceral fat cells may also mean greater amounts of cortisol being produced at the tissue level. And another fact to have in mind is that visceral fat cells have more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat.

Consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. But those cells are crying out for energy, and one way to regulate is to send hunger signals to the brain. This can lead to overeating. And, of course, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.

Cortisol may also directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain. And can also indirectly influence appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite. [7]

So you see! There are other factors out there that can make you gain more weight than is needed and stress is one of those factors that can really mess things up for you.

And when it comes to weight gain due to stress, drinking coffee to shed off fat despite its caffeine content that can alter mood, won’t cut it. Adding exercise as always is one sure method that can both help with stress as well as weight gains. Exercises will go beyond just burning fat and building muscles. It will also amplify your feel good hormones.

Another sure method is is make sure you are getting enough sleep and meditating or attending yoga classes. It helps.

Disclaimer: This website is not for emergency use, clinical diagnosis, or treatment. This service is not intended to replace a physical physician consultation but to provide additional information. If you have an emergency, please call your emergency services and get prompt treatment.

Leave a Reply