How Stressing Out Is Making You Fat

Stress not only can ruin your outlook, it can make you gain weight. Here’s how it’s affecting you.

For instance, stress accelerates cellular aging that’s associated with heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

The so-called “stress hormone” cortisol is released in the body during times of stress, that constitute the “fight or flight” response to a perceived threat.

It turns out that a stressful event can slow down our metabolism, so much so that we could gain an extra 11 pounds over the course of a year, says a new study in Biological Psychiatry. The stressed women had a slower metabolism, higher levels of insulin, which contributes to fat storage, and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol after a meal.

Cortisol increases our chances of gaining fat, in particular visceral fat, the dangerous kind that sits in our midsection and surrounds our organs. Visceral fat has a hand in raising cholesterol and insulin resistance, setting the stage for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While all of the women in the study ate the same meals, calorie-for-calorie, real life doesn’t work that way. In real life, many of us tend to pick junk food, and too much of it when we’re stressed.

We turn to high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie foods in times of stress because they’re delicious and they literally give us a temporary high by boosting endorphin and dopamine levels in the brain.

And while we may feel better in the short-term after that hot-fudge brownie sundae, the better stress-busting choices are healthy foods.

Experts agree that stress management is a critical part of weight-loss regimens. Exercise is the best and fastest method for weight loss in this case, since exercise leads to the release of endorphins, which have natural stress-fighting properties and can lower cortisol levels.

Activities such as yoga and meditation can also help lower your stress hormone levels. To effectively reduce elevated cortisol due to stress, lifestyle changes are essential.