Stress is evil in more ways than one. Not only does it steal your sleep and make you feel crazy, but it can also get in the way of your weight loss goals. Thankfully, there are a ton of things you can do to keep it under control and stay on track.
But first, how does stress impact weight gain?
When your brain detects a threat—be it the attack of a saber-toothed tiger or an unpaid credit card bill—it releases a series of chemicals to keep you alert and ready to take on the beast, including adrenaline, CRH, and cortisol.
In the short-term, these hormones make you feel less hungry as blood flows from your internal organs to the large muscles you need activated in a fight-or-flight situation. But once this adrenaline wears off, you’re left with cortisol, AKA “the stress hormone”.
Cortisol hangs around after the threat has gone away to signal to your body that it’s time to replenish its food supply.
This was great for our ancestors, who needed to fight or run away from most of their threats, expending a ton of energy in the process. But these days, a typical threat response involves less energy, and more time sitting on the couch or in front of a computer worrying about an unmet deadline—not a lot of calorie burning happening there. Unfortunately, our neuroendocrine system didn’t get the memo, so it tells our body to replenish food it didn’t use, causing us to overeat.
In addition to making us hungrier, cortisol also does damage to our diets by holding onto excess fat.
This is again the fault of our pesky ancestors whose bodies adapted to fights and famine by storing fat for the long-term. Thankfully, these days most of us don’t have to deal with such extremes in our daily lives, but our bodies don’t know the difference, so they hang onto fat much longer during times of stress.
But don’t fret! There is a lot you can do to manage stress and minimize the weight gain that often comes along with it.
Get plenty of exercise
Exercise kills two birds with one stone: in addition to expending calories, any exercise can decrease the amount of cortisol in your body and increase the feel-good chemicals necessary for combating stress and anxiety.
Make sleep a priority
During times of stress, sleep is often a last priority. But if you want to stay sane AND on track in your weight loss program, then sleep should be priority number one. Inadequate sleep leads to bad moods, listlessness, and even high blood pressure, so you ought to take your zzz’s seriously.
Talk to friends
Even if you’re unable to alter the stressful event, talking to friends can make it seem easier. Reaching out, making eye contact, and listening in an attentive way all help our bodies to relax and signal our stress hormones to calm down.
Be mindful of what you eat
During times of stress, you might feel like housing a hamburger to ease your pain, but that’ll only make things worse. A low-fat, high-fiber, and carbohydrate-rich meal with plenty of fruits and veggies will give your body the nutrients it needs to boost your mood and soothe stress.
If you’re looking for more ways to feel great, try adding upping your serotonin levels with these powerful foods.