When it feels like life is moving in fast-motion, you barely have the time to prepare for your next big meeting, let alone fix yourself a healthy meal or hit the gym.
Before you know it, you’ve gained weight, which only causes you to stress out more — and gain more weight as a result.
Here are seven ways stress leads to weight gain, and what you can start doing about it today to stop the stress-induced weight-gain cycle.
1. You Crave All The Wrong Foods
We all know the feeling: You’re in the middle of a stressful situation when hunger strikes, and you have to get something, fast. In these moments, we often crave foods that are sweet, salty, and high in fat for a reason: these foods prompt the brain to release pleasure chemicals, which comfort us when we’re feeling stressed out. But there’s a catch: that temporary feeling of relief doesn’t last, and in the meantime, you’re packing on the pounds.
2. You Sleep Less
You know you need a full night’s rest, but your anxious brain won’t shut down, and you end up lying awake for hours worrying about your endless to-do list. Not only will losing out on sleep make you feel more tired and irritated throughout the day (and more likely to say, “yes” to unhealthy foods for energy and comfort), it can also mess with the functioning of appetite-controlling chemicals ghrelin and leptin.
3. Your Blood Sugar Levels Are Out Of Whack
That moodiness and fatigue you feel when you’re super-stressed is not in your head. In periods of prolonged stress, your body’s blood sugar levels can change. This can lead to problems like exhaustion, irritability, hyperglycemia, and even metabolic syndrome.
4. You Forget To Be Mindful
When we’re stressed, we’re so focused on the details of getting things done that we rarely take the time to stop and take a look at the big picture. It’s amazing how just five minutes of meditation, including deep, calming breaths, can reduce high cortisol levels and restore calm.
5. The Weight Gain Cycle Is Perpetuated
For many people, stress and weight gain go hand in hand. Stress can lead to over-eating or eating the wrong kinds of food, which can lead to weight gain, which can induce more stress…. To break the cycle, find healthy ways to manage your stress instead of turning to emotional eating.
6. Your Ability To Burn Calories Is Affected
Two women eating the same meal may burn calories at different rates if one of them is stressed and the other is not. The stressed woman has blood sugar, insulin, and cortisol working against her — simply from being in a state of stress. When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take some time before or after work (or during your lunch break) to get outside for a walk. Walking reduces stress and burns calories and being in nature causes our natural killer cells to increase, which in turn can lower our pulse rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.
7. You’re Less Likely To Prioritize Your Health
When you’re running from one errand or appointment to the next without a moment to breathe in between, taking care of yourself by fixing healthy meals and getting to the gym may be the last thing on your mind. But it’s at those times when you’re feeling the most stressed when it’s most important to take care of yourself.
It may seem counterintuitive to spend your Sunday night prepping healthy meals for the week or squeezing in an early workout session when you’re already pressed for time, but doing so will help you manage your stress better. Prepare healthy snacks — fresh fruits and veggies with dip, fruit, boiled eggs, homemade trailmix or other easy snacks you can grab on the go — instead of reaching for the bag of chips.
If your life is getting especially hectic, take a few moments each day to focus on relaxation. Whether it’s through yoga, martial arts, journaling or mediation, taking a moment to re-centre yourself and focus on your breathing can reduce the effects of chronic stress.