When you are stressed, you want to eat junk food, yes?
Drown your sorrows in a pint of ice-cream. Wolf down a bacon double cheeseburger. Eat a big plate of fries.
This might seem comforting in the moment but it is the worst thing you can do.
When you are under stress, your body takes much longer to clear saturated fats from your bloodstream. Stress also slows down the speed of how food is moving through your digestive system, which leads to weight gain and increased inflammation. Increased inflammation leads to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, by the way.
You might have thought that when you are stressed, it is easier to lose weight. This might be true if you are in a period of stress where you are not eating and taking care of yourself properly. Sure, in those cases, you will temporarily lose weight (not in a healthy way), but that won’t last for long. Chronically stressed out people tend to overeat highly processed foods that are high in unhealthy fats and sugar, which all leads to weight gain.
It's not just about Calories In/Calories Out
Okay, hear me out on this one. I know you have always heard that “calories in” must be less than “calories out” and then weight loss will happen. Unfortunately our bodies are not a simple math equation of Calories In - Calories Out = Weight Loss.
Stress and Weight Control
Our bodies are complex machines that do not follow the text book chapter on calories in/calories out. There are many factors that come into play with how our bodies process the food we eat and how/why we lose weight. Have you ever experienced a time when you were exercising a lot and seemed to be eating well, but you still didn’t lose weight? Or maybe you even GAINED weight? Stress could be playing a role.
I wanted to take a few minutes out to explain some basics about how stress is related to weight loss. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious, our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) triggers adrenaline and we go into the “fight or flight” mode. When we are in that mode, glucose is released into our blood (from our glycogen stores), so that we have the quick energy to deal with whatever perceived “crisis” is stressing us at the moment. Our bodies store a certain amount of glucose at any given time, and once that level drops, we experience sugar cravings. This is natural and quite normal. Alternatively, when we are in a state of calmness, or have learned to channel our stresses in a healthy way, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) takes over. In this mode, we are breathing deeply, thinking clearly, and not perceiving every little thing as a stress. In this state of being, we are actually using fat storage for energy!
Are you still with me here??
The SNS uses glucose for energy. The PNS uses fat for energy.
Which would you rather be burning?
Which would be a more satisfying way to live?
Of course other variables come into play…I am not suggesting that every stress-free person is thin and not overweight. Healthy eating and feeding your body with nutrient-dense food is of vital importance as well. But if you are a type-A high stress person, don’t underestimate the significance that makes on your overall health and weight management.
Confession: I am a total Type A, perfectionist, high-stress type of girl. But I have learned some kickass ways to manage my stress to achieve optimum health in my own life.
Tips for Reducing Stress
There are a few things you can do to turn stress on its head.
Sometimes you need help incorporating these tips into your own life. Sometimes "knowing" what to do isn't enough. Having someone to support you through the process and hold you accountable, makes a HUGE difference. Find a friend, mentor, or coach you feel comfortable with, and take one step at a time!
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Megan Ántoni Placa, MS, CNS