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Stress And Weight Gain - The Cortisol Connection

Feb 4, 2008
There is a connection between stress and weight gain. And there's also a lot you can do to minimize the negative effects of that connection. How does all this work?

When you're under stress your body naturally secretes cortisol. Does that term sound familiar? You may have seen commercials on TV about cortisol and the link between stress and weight gain.

Cortisol is an important hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Stress certainly isn't the only reason cortisol is secreted into your bloodstream. But it's often called the "stress hormone" because it is secreted in higher levels during your body's "fight or flight" response to stress.

As you know, many events trigger a stress response in your body. You may find yourself stressed out because of silly work antics, a disagreeable co-worker, high workloads, a fender-bender, an unexpected illness or other dangers, and the list goes on and on. All these cause your body to react by releasing huge amounts of energy. Your metabolism begins to shift and your blood flow changes.

Although small increases of cortisol have some positive effects on your body, higher and more prolonged levels have been linked to negative effects. Chronic stress results in these higher and prolonged levels of cortisol. And one of the negative effects is weight gain.

Yes; stress and weight gain go hand-in-hand. How does the weight gain occur?

First off, negative effects of higher and prolonged levels of cortisol include suppression of the thyroid function and blood sugar imbalances. How your body functions has changed and now abdominal fat is being created and stored. This is one of the most dangerous places for fat to be stored and is linked to various serious health problems.

Just how much cortisol is secreted varies from person to person. Studies have also shown people who secrete higher levels in response to stress also tend to eat more food. And the food they choose is typically higher in carbohydrates.

In addition, stress has been known to slow the metabolism in some people. Of course, when this happens it is easier and far more likely that you'll gain weight. You may even feel full but still find yourself hungry. You may also be eating the same amount of food but now your body's efficiency in breaking down the calories is impacted. You end up with an "excess" of energy (from the calories) which is converted to fat cells.

Back to the food: Stress can also affect the foods you crave. When you feel sad and depressed you're more likely to reach for foods higher in fat, salt, and sugar content. Eating a salad just doesn't make you feel any better so instead, you reach for the ice cream and potato chips.

Besides the unhealthy cravings, stress can also create emotional eating disorders. The change in cortisol raises the nervous energy stored in the body. When this happens it seems natural to eat anything and everything you can get your hands on. You don't need the excess amount of food but devouring it makes you feel better; at least in your mind.

One of the best actions you can take to break (or at least minimize) the connection between stress and weight gain is to manage your stress. Specifically, you can keep cortisol levels healthy and under control by relaxing. That's right. After a stress episode where the "fight or flight" response was triggered, you must relax. Take a 10-minute nap, exercise, meditate, get a massage, yoga, breathing exercises, or a multitude of fun activities to give your body the chance it needs to recover.

Finally, a healthy lifestyle will do wonders. Surround yourself with fruits and vegetables for snacking. Make time for a sit-down home-cooked meal instead of opting for the fast food drive-through. Change your mental programming on how you respond to daily stressful episodes. Break the connection between stress and weight gain by taking charge of your body, mind, and your stress levels.
About the Author
More stress relief ideas plus natural treatments for depression. Find help at http://www.StressAndDepressionAnswers.com on stress, anxiety and depression topics.
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