The connection between stress and weight loss

Published:June 19th, 2012


Stress is defined as a physical, mental, or emotional factor that leads to tensions involving both mind and body. According to some sources, stress may either be positive or negative depending on a person’s threshold for that particular stress stimulus. However, despite the presence of the so-called positive stressors, people still tend to view stress wholly in a negative way. Not surprisingly, many believe it is a major culprit behind weight gain that is undesired and unwanted. The ugly truth is that they are right. Despite the fact that the impact or effect of stress and/or stressors specifically on weight per se varies from one person to another, many do tend to gain weight rather than lose weight when subjected to or placed under highly-stressful situations/conditions. To put it simply, stress is inversely proportional to weight loss, thus, the higher the degree or level of stress one is experiencing; the lower is the probability/possibility of losing weight.

Researchers who have studied and probed the close tie between stress and weight loss learned that overeating or food-bingeing is a common coping mechanism for many people who are under stress. This increase in food intake coupled with inactivity or lethargy or that chronic feeling of being tired all the time (symptoms of distress or bad stress), cause the body to take in more and more calories that are literally just being stored and not used up or utilized, hence, resulting in a corpulent physique which is referred to by many as the “eat and sleep routine” or the “pig syndrome”.

Stress and weight loss possess an inherent cause and effect relationship in a scientific perspective. Researchers say that such a connection may be an integral part of the body’s “(natural) checks and balances”. Physiologically, when the body is under stress, the production of a hormone called cortisol (stress hormone) is stimulated. Research proves that the stress hormone, cortisol, increases appetite through the activation or stimulation of a hunger-inducing brain chemical known as neuropeptide Y which is formed in the hypothalamus while on the other hand, decreases the levels of adiponectin, a hormone known to suppress food craving.

Also, during episodes of high-stress like emergency situations (fight or flight mode) for instance, the body undergoes physiological changes in endocrine secretions involving the increase of circulating epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline) and norepinephrine (a.k.a. noradrenaline). Increased blood levels of these hormones lead to an increase in blood glucose level and appetite. Therefore, when faced with intolerable stress, it is but natural for the body to crave for food as a way to achieve relief and comfort. Heightened stress levels also lead to lowered production of the hormone Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) by the adrenals. A combination of high cortisol and low DHEA (a.k.a. feel-good hormone) leads to accumulation of fat, loss of muscles, sluggish metabolism, and an increase in appetite- all of which have the cumulative effect of causing an increase in body mass. Protracted periods of stress trigger cortisol and insulin rise, signaling fat (adipose) cells to store and retain as much fat as possible, thereby, reducing its availability for immediate use. Stress accumulated over a period of time leads to difficulty in burning of body fat by triggering/causing an imbalance in one’s metabolism.

Experts recommend that people who have weight problems should engage in exercise and physical activities to effectively shed some pounds. Through exercising regularly, stress will be lessened and excess pounds will be shed in a manner that is sound for the body. Exercise is believed to be one of the best techniques for regulating and/or reducing cortisol levels that have accumulated in response to stress and also has the added advantage of burning calories to trigger and promote weight loss for the long term. Resistance training as well as aerobic and cardio exercises are generally good examples of workout routines. These activities help to distribute oxygen more efficiently throughout the body as well as stimulate the production of more endorphins (a.k.a. feel good chemicals). One may also try activities such as meditation, self-hypnosis, tai chi, and yoga to de-stress and consider relaxation exercises such as imagery and visualization, deep breathing, and meditation, guided by the idea that a more relaxed body loses weight easily and healthily. Consuming serotonin boosting foods that help promote a more relaxed and calm mood would be highly beneficial as well.

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