If you ever wanted to know how does stress affect weight loss than you are at the right place. In a new study, research Kelly Webber from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, suggests that when it comes to weight-loss success, what you eat may not be as important as what’s eating you.
In the study researchers divided study subjects into two groups of dieters: The first group was given instruction on intuitive-eating techniques, while the second group learned tactics for managing stress. After seven weeks, the members of the first group didn’t lose a significant amount of weight. However, the dieters who were taught stress-management techniques did—as much as 17 pounds.
Study author Kelly Webber, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of dietetics and human nutrition at the University of Kentucky, says it might be because stress management addresses the underlying reasons many people gain weight. “Many of us are stress or emotional eaters,” she says. “That is, we eat too much and eat unhealthy foods in order to calm our response to stress.”
Dr Elissa Epel, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco said
“While the immediate . . . response to acute stress can be a temporary loss of appetite, more and more we are coming to recognise that for some people, chronic stress can be tied to an increase in appetite — and stress-induced weight gain”
So what is the problem?
The problem, she says, lies within our neuroendocrine system — a brain-to-body connection that harkens back to evolutionary times and which helped our distant ancestors to survive. Though today the source of the stress is more likely to be an unpaid bill than a saber-toothed tiger, this system still activates a series of hormones whenever we feel threatened.
The hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenalin – which gives us instant energy – along with corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH) and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually don’t last long as cortisol works on a different timetable. Cortisol job is to help us replenish our body after the stress has passed and it hangs around a lot longer. “It can remain elevated, increasing your appetite and ultimately driving you to eat more,” says Epel. When we have long term stress, both insulin and cortisol remain elevated in the blood and the extra glucose is stored as fat–mostly in the abdomen.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Scientists have discovered that fat cells actually have special receptors for the stress hormone cortisol, and there are more of these receptors in our abdominal fat cells than anywhere else in our bodies! In addition, scientists have shown that belly fat is actually an active tissue, acting as an endocrine organ that responds to the stress response by actually welcoming more fat to be deposited! This is an ongoing cycle until we take steps to correct this adrenal imbalance.
Just when you think this is bad enough there is another way stress appears to increase body fat: by changing the way you metabolise fat and sugar. That’s the suggestion of a new study from the University of California at San Francisco, which found that women under excess pressure who consumed a high-fat, high-sugar diet ended up with larger waistlines and more abdominal fat than women who ate a similar diet but reported low stress levels.
The study, published online in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, looked at 61 women, about half of whom were stressed-out caregivers for a partner or parent with dementia. For a year, the researchers compared the weight, waist circumference, and body-fat levels of the caregivers with the less-stressed women who weren’t caretakers. They tracked both groups’ metabolic health by measuring insulin resistance; levels of free radicals, which are associated with inflammation; and body chemicals linked to stress and obesity. Even though both groups ate the same not-exactly-healthy diet high in fat and sugar, the caregivers were the ones who ended up with additional abdominal fat and other negative metabolic changes.
So what can you do about it?
Here are some simple and quick tips to get you on your road to achieving a better health.
1. Sleep – the number of people that are sleep deprived is incredible and if you are not rested, then you are not able to deal with problems and situations which adds to your stress levels. If you have problems sleeping try eating less at night and reduce your screen time i.e. read a book, listen to some relaxing music.
2. Laugh – we don’t laugh enough. In previous article Laughter is the Best Medicine we discovered that laughing increases blood circulation, relaxes your muscles, reduces pain, lowers blood sugar levels, relieves anxiety and helps ward off heart disease. So watch a funny movie or tv show, share jokes around the dinner table – just have fun.
3. Take a walk – Exercise is positive, and can help us reduce stress, but only if it does not make us feel tired. When we are exhausted, our adrenals are already working hard, and exercise can put added strain on them. So take a leisurely walk with a friend or a loved one. Alternatively, put on your headphones, some great music and enjoy a walk by yourself.
Finally, get your cortisol levels tested. Don’t just assume that this is the problem to your weight loss, it could be a contributing factor but find out for sure. Get tested.