Can Stress & Anxiety Cause Weight Gain?
For most Americans, stress is a part of life. According to a recent study by the American Psychological Association, 75% of us experienced a symptom of stress in the past month. While stress isn’t always bad, it can have a serious impact on our health over time.
In particular, stress and anxiety are associated with weight gain. When we experience stress, our bodies release hormones to help us handle the stressful event. If those hormone levels stay elevated due to ongoing stress, it can cause us to overeat, eat too many high calorie foods, and ultimately, put on weight.
Losing this weight can be hard, particularly because too much stress can actually slow down your metabolism. By choosing a weight loss program that resets your metabolism – like Ideal You – you can shed pounds and keep them off over time.
How Stress Affects Your Body
Stress is a part of life for all of us. Whether you get stressed in traffic, by family or relationship issues, or work, chances are good that you have experienced this feeling of emotional and physical tension.
Stress is caused by something in your life, known as a stressor. Examples of stressors include:
- Major life changes, like getting married or divorced, moving, the death of a loved one, or starting a new job.
- Unpredictable events, such as a pay cut or even political issues
- Work, like a demanding boss, a heavy workload, or urgent deadlines
- Social stresses, like fighting with your partner or family members
- Environmental factors, like a neighbor who plays loud music late at night or a barking dog
- Fear, such as a fear of failure or being afraid to fly
- Uncertainty, such as not knowing what will happen during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Beliefs, like internal pressure that you put on yourself to create the perfect holiday for your kids
If your stress continues after the stressor is gone, it is considered anxiety.
In small doses, stress can actually be helpful. For example, if you are under a tight deadline at work, stress could help you get that work done. Alternatively, if you are in danger, your “fight or flight” response is activated – which can help you get to safety.
However, when stress moves from short-term (acute) to long-term, chronic, it can have a negative impact on your body. That is because of the way that your body reacts to stress.
When we experience stress, our body releases the “stress hormones,” adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones boost our heartbeat and send blood rushing to the areas that need it the most in a challenging situation, such as our muscles, heart, and other organs. Cortisol also floods the body with glucose and inhibits insulin production to prevent it from being stored, so that it can be immediately used to meet the emergency.
When the stressful situation is resolved, the central nervous system should send a signal to the body to stop producing these hormones. However, if this doesn’t happen – or if the stressor doesn’t go away – then the body’s stress response will continue.
Chronic stress is linked with a number of health issues, including:
- High blood sugar
- Heart attack
- High blood pressure
- Fertility problems
- Low sex drive
While acute (short-term) stress may lead to weight loss, chronic stress is linked to weight gain and obesity.
The Link Between Stress and Weight Gain
There are a number of reasons why people who experience chronic stress or anxiety tend to gain weight. In particular, the effects of the stress hormone cortisol on the body can cause a person to put on weight.
First, cortisol stimulates appetite. This makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint: if we experience an emergency and use up glucose to respond to it, we need to eat to replenish our energy stores. In modern times, however, stress isn’t usually linked to physical danger – so higher levels of cortisol may cause us to overeat.
Second, cortisol affects our digestive system, which can cause our bodies to metabolize calories more slowly. In fact, a 2015 study found that participants who reported one or more stressors in a 24 hour period burned 104 fewer calories than individuals who did not experience stressors.
Third, when our cortisol levels rise repeatedly, it can affect the amount of fat that we have in our bodies. It sends triglycerides (a type of fat cell) from storage to visceral fat cells, which are located around the abdomen and are considered the most dangerous type of fat. This type of fat contains an enzyme, cortisone, that stimulates the production of more cortisol at the tissue level – creating a vicious cycle.
Fourth, cortisol doesn’t just stimulate our appetite – it increases our cravings for high calorie foods. This can lead to a much higher calorie intake than a person would otherwise have without elevated cortisol levels.
Stress and anxiety can contribute to weight gain in other ways as well. For example, if you have frequent headaches from chronic stress, you may choose to eat foods that are easy to make and comforting – which may also be high in calories and fat. Similarly, insomnia from chronic stress may leave you without the energy to go grocery shopping or cook and prepare healthy foods.
How Can I Lose Weight If I Am Constantly Stressed?
We know that stress and anxiety often cause weight gain, yet the reality is that most of us live with a certain level of stress. But if you can’t immediately remove a stressor from your life, how can you lose weight?
As a general rule, diets don’t work for weight loss. Instead, you need a more holistic, sustainable approach to lose weight – one that addresses the reasons why you may have gained weight, like poor hydration, imbalances in your body, the foods you eat, and even the amount of sleep that you are getting.
Ideal You offers a healthy way to lose weight by allowing you to reset your metabolism so that you are burning fat instead of storing it. You don’t have to work out, or buy expensive pre-packaged food on the Ideal You program. Instead, you’ll eat real food, take all natural supplements, and work with experienced weight loss coaches to slim down. By changing your metabolism, you can counteract many of the effects of chronic stress – even if you cannot completely eliminate stress from your life.
At Ideal You, we understand that figuring out how to lose weight can also be a source of stress. That is why we provide you with a structured food list and weight loss journal, and provide support from a team of weight loss coaches. You won’t have to worry about how you’re going to lose weight, because you’ll be following our proven strategy.
Ready to Make a Change? Reach Out Today for a Free Consultation
For most of us, putting on weight is far too easy – and taking it off is really difficult. When you have a lot of stress in your life, it can be even harder to drop pounds. Ideal You can help.
At Ideal You, we are dedicated to helping people lose weight in a safe, sustainable way. When you enroll in our weight loss program, we will work with you to find the root causes for your body’s imbalances and correct them. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation with Ideal You Health Center, give us a call at 888-488-7258, or book a consultation online.