Stress makes you gain weight. Cortisol is a particular culprit. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and does a useful job regulating blood pressure and strengthening the immune system at times of stress. The problem is when we have too much stress too often, cortisol hangs around the system for too long.
Nutritional Biochemist Shawn Talbot describes what happens: “When cortisol spikes, it tells the body to eat something with a lot of calories which, is a great survival tactic if you need energy to flee from a predator, but not if you’re fretting over how to pay bills” https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cortisol-Connection-Stress-Makes-Health/dp/089793492X
Increased cortisol also reduces testosterone (present in both men and women) and that increases body fat.
So stress can not only increase appetite, it also increases the desire to eat fattening food in particular. So it’s no surprise that many clients who come to see me for weight loss hypnotherapy report feeling the urge to eat fattening foods when they are stressed. I often point to them that because stress makes you gain weight, then it’s important to help them manage their stress levels.
Other studies have shown that turning to food when stressed is a very common response. The American Psychological Association found stress is major reason why people over-eat. And those people who over-eat also fail to exercise, vegging out in front of the TV instead
And it is not just over-eating and being lazy. Stress increases cravings as well. The term ‘comfort food’ is no accident. Research has shown that when rats are stressed (and making more cortisol) they developed a stronger liking for fats and sugars. There is some recent evidence that the same is true of humans.
And that is not the end of the story. If you are stressed you will probably have trouble sleeping. A disturbed sleep cycle will interfere with the functioning of the chemicals ghrelin and leptin, and guess what? They have an effect on appetite control. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17212793
On top of these chemical and hormonal reactions in our bodies, there are also our emotions and feelings. Often we identify food with childhood experiences of care, love and comfort, and it is easy to turn to food in a subconscious desire to recreate this love when we feel the adult world is against us.
And lastly, there is the demon drink. Many of us turn to alcohol as a quick fix if we feel stressed or unhappy. It doesn’t work in the long term and all alcohol is high in calories, so drink and you will gain weight.
In short stress makes you gain weight.
Now, the good news is reduction of stress can reduce fat. A study in the Journal of Obesity reported a research project where a group of women were given ‘mindful’ eating advice and stress-reduction techniques. They not only lost weight, they lost that particularly dangerous abdominal fat which had been identified as causing diabetes and heart disease. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jobe/2011/651936/