Why managing your stress can help keep off the extra kilos

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  • Stress contributes to a host of health problems, and weight gain may be one of them.
  • Increased cortisol levels and increased weight may be linked.
  • Managing your stress has many benefits.

A deadline at work, bills piling up, Timmy’s school project, morning traffic, what to cook for supper, bundles of laundry, Jen’s ballet recital, and staying safe from the virus...

With so many things on our plates, it isn’t surprising our stress levels are sky-high. We know that stress is a great contributor to several health issues – and weight gain could be one of them.

When we are under pressure, the body naturally releases hormones to help us cope with the stress we’re facing.

Some of the hormones we release are adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol. These hormones help invoke the stress response or, as it is more commonly known, the “fight-or-flight response”, which helped our ancestors fight off an enemy attack or run from a hungry predator. 

As with most things, there are pros and cons to the stress response. It keeps us alert and allows us to respond appropriately in certain situations, but it can also wreak havoc with certain bodily functions if it remains activated.

Results of constantly elevated stress hormones are anxiety and depression, headaches, concentration and memory issues, difficulty sleeping, heart conditions, digestive health problems, and potential weight gain.

Cortisol overexposure

When a threat presents itself, adrenaline is released, and when that wears off, cortisol is there to take over. It helps maintain your blood sugar level, but could also trigger sugar cravings and an elevated appetite.

Coupled with the increase in appetite, cortisol can cause your metabolism to slow down.

Lean muscle mass is also under threat when cortisol levels are elevated because when your body needs calories to burn, lean muscle burns faster than fat.

Reducing stress is not always easy, and you need to address both your mental and physical states. However, being mindful and making a conscious decision to manage your stress could help you with keeping your weight in check.

Get a handle on your stress

Here are a few techniques to help you keep off those kilos:

  • Practice conscious eating: Ask yourself why you’re eating – check if you’re really hungry or if it’s stress eating.
  • Don’t skip meals: Make sure you eat at regular intervals and try not to miss meals.
  • Eat good, nutritious food: Try to advance your nutrition game. Eat meals packed with fruit, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains.
  • Say no to comfort food: As hard as this may be, don't keep comfort food in your house.
  • Be mindful of what causes your stress: Identify your stressors and train yourself in problem-solving; learn how to exercise foresight; and figure out ways to better cope with obstacles and setbacks.
  • Movement and meditation: Exercise – whichever you’re most comfortable with – is always a good idea. Stretching increases your body’s mobility and decreases tension. Meditation and breathing exercises are also highly beneficial.
  • Forty winks: Get enough sleep. Sleep is incredibly important because your body cleans, repairs, and resets itself while you’re asleep – including your brain. A lack of sleep could increase ghrelin (your hunger hormone) and decrease leptin (the hormone indicating that you’re full), which could result in overeating.

READ | High levels of stress hormone cortisol linked to Covid-19 death

READ | Reducing stress levels could lead to eating less junk food

READ | Financial stress may lead to physical pain in later years

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