Why is stress making me fat?

Stress can make you fat. Here's how.
Stress can make you fat. Here's how.

Everyone reacts differently to stress. For some people it means struggling to fall asleep (or stay asleep) at night, while for others it leads to unhealthy eating choices.

According to a previous Health24 article, anything that poses a threat to your wellbeing has the potential to trigger stress. A certain amount of stress is actually good for you as it gets you going and can be a form of motivation.

It is however when stress levels become too high – or stay high over long periods of time – that it can have a negative effect on your waistline.

A matter of energy

During times of stress, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol that help prepare you for “flight or fight”.

Initially, adrenaline suppresses your hunger – blood flows away from your organs towards your muscles so you are ready to either run away or stay and fight.

But, as the adrenaline wears off, your adrenal gland releases large amounts of cortisol, which helps control the buildup of fat when we experience stress. It takes the fat from your blood and other storage places and moves it to your belly. 

Cortisol also tells your body that you need to replenish the energy supply you lost. Of course this wasn’t a problem for our ancestors – they used up a lot of energy during moments of fight or flight, which meant their bodies needed to store that fat.

Today, however, we’re not in the wild running for our lives or catching dinner – we’re sitting at our desks, in the car or on the couch. So when we feel stressed, we’re not burning off that excess energy even though our body tells us we are.

And the result? An expanding waistline.

Is it stress or are you hungry?

It’s not always easy to determine whether you’re hungry or stressed. According to an article on HelpGuide, a website that collaborates with Harvard Health Publication, you can ask yourself these four questions to determine whether you are actually hungry or in fact stress eating.

1. Do you suddenly feel hungry?

Physical hunger usually comes on gradually – sudden hunger often means it’s emotional.

2. Are you craving a specific food?

If you are hungry, any food will sound good. Emotional hunger makes you crave unhealthy food.

3. Are you able to satisfy your hunger?

If you cannot stop eating, you are emotionally hungry; physical hunger can be satisfied before you feel stuffed.

4. Is your stomach grumbling?

Usually a growling tummy indicates physical hunger. If you are emotionally hungry, you won’t be able to get the thought of food out of your head.

How to avoid gaining weight

If you are struggling to keep your appetite under control when feeling stressed, try to make healthier choices when it comes to what you eat. Instead of reaching for a packet of chips or a doughnut, here are eight superfoods to grab instead:

1.    Almonds

2.    Avocados

3.    Blueberries

4.    Cashew nuts

5.    Oatmeal

6.    Spinach

7.    Sweet potato

8.    Walnuts

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24