• Susan Maurer

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Fatter

How Stress Contributes to Weight Gain

I am not a Foodie. I am, however, someone who has always been fascinated with the profound effects that good food can have our bodies, our energy levels, and overall health.

While many of you already know that there is a connection between stress and weight gain, I’d like to share some information on why this is the case, and how you can stop it from sabotaging your health.

How Stress Contributes to Weight Gain

Stress is tightly tangled up with diet and good health, so it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other.

When you’re stressed, a carefully executed sequence of events take place in the body, involving a variety of hormones. For instance, cortisol and adrenaline arrive on the scene to trigger a sugar (glucose) release. Then the hormone insulin jumps in to shuttle the sugar into cells for quick energy; theoretically this is to get your body ready to run away or prepare to fight. But let’s face it: the only running you’ll do is probably to the next (virtual) meeting, and the only fighting you might do will involve a never-ending battle with too many deadlines. But even though we’re living in the 21st century, our systems have refused to catch up, so they operate as they have for the last 15,000 years. The result is that too much unused insulin or cortisol redeposit around the midsection, affectionately known as the Love Handles Region.

Another hormone that plays an important role is ghrelin. Have you ever felt overly hungry on stressful days and weren’t sure why? Ghrelin levels automatically increase and send out signals that you need food--mostly carbs because they are a quick source of fuel. That’s one reason why you might find yourself overeating. Ghrelin levels also rise when you stress your body by not getting enough sleep.

I could go on, but my suggestion is to take a minute -- even a few brief seconds -- to think through the physiological actions that are happening in your body during stress which might lead to weight gain, and then tune into that awareness. This will then allow you to consider better choices before, mindlessly, reacting and reaching for quick hits of energy like sugary foods.

Tips and Tricks for Managing Stress (And Weight)

Part of the key to weight loss or weight management is managing the stress response. Here are a few guidelines I share with my clients:


Eat Regularly: skipping meals triggers a drop in blood sugar and leads to a stress response. Try to eat something (even a few nuts) every 3 – 4 hours to keep blood sugar steady


Water: Just a 2% reduction in hydration can trigger a stress response. Try to drink 16oz of water ½ hour before a meal; studies have also shown that this simple strategy aids weight loss


Sleep: Lack of sleep triggers cortisol, the stress hormone, and ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Get 7-8 hours per night.


Breathe: Take deep breaths throughout the day – it will naturally lower stress levels

Stretch: Stretch as if you were trying to impress your dog or cat. They really know how to get in a good one. This also naturally lowers stress levels

So eat right, reduce your stress, and enjoy life a little more. Remember, too, that you’re in control of your cells, who, as Dr. Deepak Chopra says, “are eavesdropping on your thoughts.” Stress is only as detrimental as you choose to make it.

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