4 Surprising Reasons Stress May Be Making you Fat

Written by Salina Jivani

Maybe your relationship’s on the rocks.

Maybe your dog’s missing.

Maybe your job’s on the line.

Stress happens. In fact, in life it’s inevitable.

But do you notice your clothes fitting tighter? Or that you’ve sprouted some extra “love” on those love handles?

Unfortunately, stress often affects more than your state of mind. In fact, it might be the very culprit behind the extra weight you’re suddenly lugging around. Understanding how stress can contribute to an unhealthy weight can help you battle the bulge and be more motivated to combat stressors. Here are four key ways stress may be contributing to your expanding waistline—and teetering weigh scale.

Causes insulin resistance

When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, signaling your body to put all “non-essential” body functions on hold until the stressful situation disappears, which is signaled by the dip in cortisol to a normal level. As a result, when cortisol is released, the body tries to preserve as much energy as it’s able through blood glucose, so it signals insulin to stop accepting blood glucose into the cells. When the stress disappears, insulin will once again balance blood cortisol levels, allowing cells to accept glucose again. However, when you’re in a constant state of stress, your body becomes immune to signals to resume activity as normal, such as insulin signaling the cells to accept glucose again, which leads to insulin resistance.

What happens when your body resists insulin? Well, among other issues, your body won’t be able to use up the energy from the foods you eat, since glucose won’t be allowed to enter the cells, which leads to weight gain.

Makes you hungry

In stressful situations, you may either lose your appetite or gain one. If the latter is true for you, you can thank good ol’ cortisol—again. As we already know, our body releases cortisol when it’s undergoing stress. But what you may not know is that this hormone is also responsible for making you feel hungry. So if you’re a “stress eater” that means your body reacts to signals sent by the release of cortisol, which makes you hungry and immediately prompts you to reach for that king-size chocolate bar…or anything else within your reach.

Promotes sleep deprivation

When you’re stressed, you’ll likely notice a disturbance in your sleep patterns and find it more and more challenging to get a restful night’s sleep. Lack of sleep causes more than just grogginess and irritability—it alters your appetite, affecting the hormones your body releases throughout the day.

For instance, ghrelin increases appetite while leptin decreases it—and both of these hormones are released interchangeably throughout the day as your body cues and ceases hunger signals. However, when you’re tired, your body releases ghrelin to keep you going throughout the day, which often will cause you to continuously reach for fatty, carb-filled junk foods (think office vending machines!).

Moves fat to your tummy

One of the hardest places to lose fat from is your belly, yet that’s exactly where your body will store fat during stressful times. And it’s thanks, again, to cortisol. When you’re stressed and your body releases cortisol, that cortisol will direct fat from all parts of your body directly to your belly, where it becomes visceral fat—which extremely difficult to get rid of.

Learn healthy ways to combat stress so that you can keep a normal routine going in your life to avoid the negative impacts of stress. Yoga and other forms of exercise are terrific stress reducers, plus they’ll help you stay in good shape. Also consider things like talking to someone you trust or journaling your feelings—all wonderful ways to let go of some of the burden. Remember, a healthy mind makes for a healthier body.

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