The number of stressed people is rising, and the trend is rather alarming. Data from the American Psychological Association indicated that three out of four Americans are dealing with at least one stress-related symptom. It is not true only of Americans, but of South Asians, too.
Why do I say it is alarming?
Stress brings a lot of unwanted health problems, one of which is undesirable weight gain. Your body’s response system involves a hormone called cortisol, which increases the blood sugar in the body.
It does not matter if you overeat unhealthy foods when stressed because that is just a part of it. Overall, your body’s way of managing stress should be a priority if you want to avoid unnecessary weight gain.
Stress can go unnoticed at first, but after consistent exposure, your body will begin to feel physical symptoms such as headaches, tight muscles and more. Emotionally, you will feel irritated, out of control, overwhelmed, and have all the other unpleasant feelings the stressed are heir to.
When this is prolonged, you may notice unwanted weight gain, due to the action of cortisol. I will have to elaborate on this hormone as this is the one that gets the body to “fight or flee.”
Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands whenever your body feels stressed. However, its levels drop back to normal when the body feels there is no more stress to deal with.
On the other hand, there are times that cortisol never goes back to its normal level. This happens when the body is constantly exposed to stress. Overexposure to cortisol may lead to overeating since it is an appetite stimulant. This is why so many people respond to stress by going for comfort foods.
The excessive intake of unhealthy calories as an effect of high levels of cortisol can see the extra calories being stored as fat in the middle. This is why love handles are often the first ones to develop when you are gaining weight.
This agrees with a 2015 study which showed that women who experience one or more stress symptoms the previous day burned 104 fewer calories than those who were not stressed. Stress was gauged from participant responses regarding their own stressful experiences, before they were given a meal high in fat.
After consuming the meal, all the participants were asked to wear a mask to measure the level of oxygen and carbon dioxide they inhaled and exhaled. Then, their rate of metabolism was measured.
The stressed women showed a significant slowing down of their metabolism, and higher blood insulin levels. The 104-calorie deficit can add approximately 11 pounds of weight annually. I am sure you are getting a clear picture of how stress can easily make you pile on the pounds.
Enough said! We all know how stress will only harm us mentally and physically!
What should we do about it? How do we handle it?
The key is to be AWARE. You are not the only one. Stress is a part of everybody’s life – every day. Women endure more stress – involving family, career, personal lives, finances, the way they look, their weight, their kids etc. It is not the stress itself that affects us negatively; what matters is how you deal with it. People who come across as stress-free and relaxed are the ones dealing with it very well.
It is clear that stress will not go away. So let us find out how to deal with it in a constructive, mindful and uplifting way. Various things help my clients:
Talk to friends: Social connections go a long way. Talk to your friends about your emotions. It can help you process them better.
Join online communities for support: Do not shy away from joining online communities that support people dealing with stress.
Exercise: Every time you fell stress sneaking up on you, do some exercise. Go for a walk or a swim, or do jumping jacks at home. You can also do a few minutes of yoga. Physical exercise gets your endorphins going.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the act of being aware and present. It helps people get out of the habit of mindless eating, acting on their stress-induced cravings. Mindfulness exercises are simple to learn and wonderful to promote resilience in general, so you really cannot lose.
Healthy alternatives: I am big on making sure your pantry, refrigerator is clear of any unhealthy food. So, when your emotional eating hormones trigger, you will have only healthier options. Start with the basics here.
- Drink coconut water, or Perrier instead of soda
- Munch on veggies instead of chips
- Enjoy a slice of dark chocolate instead of binging on an entire chocolate muffin
- Taking care of yourself should be your most important job – let us start inside out. Actively look for ways that can help you manage your stress levels. You do not want to gain unhealthy pounds, right?
Check out Kimi’s previous column here!