Coast Lifestyle

HOW STRESS AFFECTS YOUR WEIGHT

stress affects your weight

Your work meeting ran late. Your car wouldn’t start immediately. You’ve hit every red light on the drive home. You realize you have no groceries at the same time hunger hits.

Surely, you’ve experienced a night like this and didn’t handle it gracefully. That’s because when you are experiencing stress—no matter how insignificant—the demands on your mind and body have exceeded the resources you have to cope with them. It’s hard to deal with each stressor when you’re standing at the crossroads of eight different frustrating scenarios.

Some nights like this might be unavoidable. But it’s important to learn about the long-term, negative impacts of stress so you can keep yourself healthy, well, and whole.

A common concern with ill-managed stress is an impact on the ability to maintain a healthy weight. There are a lot of factors that explain how stress affects weight. Your body’s response to stress—the hormones it releases—can impact fat storage. Stress can cause shifts in your microbiome. And, on top of that, the stress eating—turning to comforting, unhealthy foods—used to cope can compound the issues.

Below, you’ll get in-depth explanations of these bodily responses and the vicious stress cycle. But before you explore the impact, let’s discuss the different types of stress and your body’s response to it.

Types of Stress

Short-term stress happens quickly, over a short duration of time. It could be bad traffic or a long line at the store when you’re in a hurry. A short-term stressor might be small, but it’s something you’re able to handle without much difficulty.

Long-term stress is an ongoing battle against your stressor(s). It can be repetitive, continuous situations or conditions that feel insurmountable. For example, a lot of people struggle with crippling debt or maybe going to a job they hate. These types of looming stressors can last for months and even years.

Your body handles these stressors differently. From chemical pathways to behavioral changes, a lot can happen in response to stress. Let’s explore your body’s response to stressors to better understand how you can stay healthy while overcoming life’s obstacles.

The Short-Term Stress Response

Short-term stress happens when your body reacts to a risk, whether it is real or perceived. Let’s say you’re home alone and you hear an unfamiliar sound. Your brain may process this as a risk. You might assume it’s an intruder, even if the sound is not.

Before you determine the sound was just the washing machine, your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. And your adrenal glands secrete the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

These hormones make your body prepared for survival mode, should the need arise. Increased hormone levels elevate your heart rate, blood pressure, and they increase the rate at which fat and carbohydrates in your system are broken down. Basically, these hormones are changing your metabolism to fuel this heightened state to be ready to fight or run away. Once the threat is eliminated, your body can return to its normal state.

The Long-Term Stress Response

Since the exposure to the “risk”—again perceived or real—is prolonged during long-term stress, your body can be strained physically and psychologically. Instead of short-lived spikes in the flight-or-fight hormones, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, the primary stress hormone.

Cortisol’s presence doesn’t wreak havoc on the body. The strain comes from elevated levels for a prolonged period of time. The body becomes accustomed to these levels, establishing a new baseline tolerance. Consequently, if high stress levels are maintained, the secretions will continue to increase.

High levels of cortisol stimulate your appetite. On top of that, it can influence a rise in insulin levels. Insulin is responsible for regulating blood sugar. As the insulin level raises, blood sugar levels drop. This can create cravings for especially calorie-dense foods to regain a reasonable blood sugar level.

The Vicious Cycle of Stress & Weight Gain

The sequence of events above may not seem that harmful on the surface. However, if cortisol continues to course through your system for days, weeks—even months—on end, a vicious cycle is born. Elevated cortisol leads to increased insulin levels, which leads to lower blood sugar, and finally sugar cravings.

It’s not surprising that if you experience stress without relief, you might reach for “comfort foods” to sustain you. These foods are aptly named. They often supply a lot of energy in the form of refined sugar. They’re rich in fat to boot. And your brain experiences a calming effect from these foods.

In a way, comfort foods provide a short respite from the stress response. But this positively reinforces the frequent consumption of comfort foods. When you experience this relief, it’s likely you’ll reach for a similar food the next time you’re stressed and hungry. If the cycle continues long-term, there are implications for weight gain.

But there’s more to it than the cycle of stress eating. Cortisol activates lipoprotein lipase (LPL), an enzyme responsible for depositing and storing fat. A group of researchers found a correlation between high cortisol levels and central fat accumulation (distribution of fat around the midsection).

The group studied women at rest and subjected them to stress tests. Measurements of participant cortisol levels and psychological responses were taken after each rest or testing session. The researchers found that these correlations back up the existing hypothesis that long-term stress and “stress reactivity” can lead to greater central fat accumulation.

The Impact of Stress on Your Microbiome

A recent study in mice reiterated that stress has physical implications too, not just psychological ones. The researchers took a group of mice and fed half of the male and female mice a high-fat diet and then exposed the entire group to mild stress for a prolonged period of time.

The most notable finding was in the group of female mice not on the high-fat diet. After the stress period, their gut microbiota had changed. Though they were not eating a high-fat diet, their microbiome told a different story. Over time, the bacteria in their gut shifted to resemble that of the mice fed a high-fat diet.

Though this study was conducted in mice, the lessons and implications are clear. First, the biological effects of stress are far-reaching. It affects how you feel emotionally. But stress also changes the body physiologically. Second, the conclusion also implies that eating well alone is not enough to keep your body as healthy as it could be. While diet is important, so is your response to stress.

Tips for Managing Versus Coping with Stress

While they may sound similar, managing and coping with stress are two very distinct behaviors. Management involves planning ahead and building systems of support before stressors become overwhelming. Coping implies a sense of survival or just scraping by during an episode of stress.

Creating a stress-management plan doesn’t have to be stressful—it can be simple! It takes a little bit of forethought and planning, but once in place, it can help you through a hectic day. Consider the list below and think of how to personalize each for your life.

  • Create a support system. You likely already have a network of family and friends. But it’s helpful to pinpoint exactly who in your web can help you and when. And don’t just name them—write them down. It’s easier to reach out for support when a name and number are ready to use.
  • Block out alone time. This actually means time spent alone—free from distractions and visitors. You’re encouraged to physically block out these times on your calendar, too. This way colleagues or family can’t schedule over your time to recharge. If you’re a busy person, don’t give this up if you don’t have a free hour. Even five minutes alone can help.
  • Prioritize your tasks. It’s always gratifying to check off items on a to-do list. But often the easiest tasks get checked first, leaving the larger, more important tasks waiting for too long. Be honest with yourself when creating and prioritizing your list.
  • Make time for self-care. This doesn’t necessarily mean treating yourself in the way of bubble baths and bon-bons. It means actually taking care of yourself by eating balanced meals, sleeping well, and exercising, to name a few. Taking care of your body shouldn’t be a luxury, so make these self-care pieces a priority.
  • Be active! Exercise can intimidate some, but it can be enjoyable if you tailor it to your interests. Whether it be a leisurely walk or a vigorous game of soccer, both are valid options for getting your body moving. Research has shown that regular exercise can lower cortisol levels and boost endorphins.

Thanks to Ienna Templeton

 

Healthy Cove

8 Ways to Enjoy the Holidays Without the Weight Gain

The holiday season is here and with it comes time spent with family and friends eating delicious food. Mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey, pie, cookies, and cocktails are staples at every celebration and party. Indulging in these seasonal treats is fun, but this time of merriment can quickly add up on the bathroom scale.

Your physical fitness doesn’t need to suffer this year, though. There are several reliable ways to avoid packing on extra pounds this holiday season. And none of them require depriving yourself of the splendid holiday treats you enjoy so much.

Proper Portions

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of the season and lose track of what, and how much, you’ve eaten throughout the day. Overeating during the holidays can lead to weight gain in even the healthiest individuals. Overweight or obese persons are even more likely to gain weight during this time of year. And while you should celebrate and enjoy yourself, there are ways to do it safely.

Dishing up proper serving sizes at a holiday meal makes overeating harder to do. Choosing a half-cup of stuffing—instead of half-a-plate—allows you to enjoy the taste of comfort food while leaving room for more nutritious dishes. And when in doubt, choose vegetables, fruits, and protein over starchy, refined grains, and sugar.

Aim for Quality

Holidays Without the Weight Gain: Veggies

Next time you’re in line at the dinner buffet, pick up nutrient-dense foods first. At holiday parties, these take the shape of green salads, roasted vegetables, and turkey. Choosing vegetables and protein first will fill your stomach with quality food and leave less room for tempting filler foods (potatoes, stuffing, dinner rolls, etc.).

Another great way to balance your holiday meal is by adding whole fruit to your plate. Apples, oranges, and pomegranates are in season this time of year. These fruits are full of fiber and vitamins that support healthy digestion and immunity. And they’re naturally sweet and delicious.

Watch Out for High Calorie Filler Foods

Starchy foods—like potatoes and dinner rolls—sugary cocktails, and cookies let you eat a lot and not feel full. That’s because these foods are low in fiber and high in sugar. Your body digests them quickly and the resulting blood sugar highs and lows make it difficult to listen to what your body needs.

Conversely, high fiber side dishes with lots of fruits and vegetables sustain you longer and make your more aware of when your stomach is actually full. There are easy ways to substitute nutrient poor dishes for more wholesome options. Whole-grain dinner rolls and sweet potatoes are healthier alternatives to mashed potatoes and white bread. A conservative glass of red wine has valuable antioxidants not found in other beverages. Fruit salad instead of cookies provides the sweetness you and your guests crave without the calories.

Eat Well Throughout the Day

One of the easiest ways to sabotage your diet is to skip meals in anticipation of eating large ones later. So don’t fast all day in preparation for a special family dinner. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and choose a lunch that will keep you full and sustained until the evening.

Fiber-rich foods and snacks with fruits, veggies, and protein increase satiety and help keep cravings at bay. Fruits and vegetables provide the fiber to fill your stomach. Protein slows digestion and helps keep you full for longer.

Build your pre-party meal with these facts in mind. A salad for lunch (size: approximately three cups) can help reduce the calorie intake at your next meal by nearly 12 percent. Fueling your body well before a holiday get-together will help you make better eating choices and quiet the urge to overeat.

Make It Yourself

Holidays Without the Weight Gain: Drinks

Worried about what you should eat at a party? Provide a calorie conscious dish at the next potluck. Preparing refreshments yourself allows you to control sugar and fat content. And it ensures there will be something available for you to eat. Odds are you won’t be the only party-goer looking for a healthier option.

Another way to promote healthy holiday eating is hosting a party of your own. Serving nutritious snacks and beverages and enjoying the company of friends and family will sustain the holiday spirit and provide a healthy evening.

Socialize

Holidays Without the Weight Gain: Socialize

Good conversation with loved ones is calorie-free and a terrific way to spread holiday cheer. Focus on the people at the party, rather than the food. If you need extra motivation to stick to healthy-eating goals, aim to talk to three different people before partaking in the holiday spread. Meet two new people before going back for seconds.

Reward Good Behavior

Making healthy choices this holiday season doesn’t require self-deprivation. You’ll feel confident after a day of proper portions and nutritious meals. Reward yourself with a slice of pie or cake. These treats shouldn’t come after every meal, but they’re well deserved after you have provided your body with proper nutrition.

Withholding tempting foods can backfire and lead to binges that will set you back on your journey to holiday health. So treat yourself appropriately and remember to eat all things in moderation.

Make Exercise a Group Activity

Regular exercise is one of the hardest habits to maintain during holiday celebrations. But exercise is necessary to combat weight gain during this time of year. The average holiday meal amounts to more than 2,000 calories consumed in a single sitting. That’s a staggering number, but there are plenty of ways to knock off those excess calories with friends and family.

Plan activities together that take advantage of the season. A long walk after dinner can help aid in digestion. Snowshoeing, skiing, playing football, and charity races are excellent ways to spend time together and burn those holiday calories. Maintaining your physical fitness this holiday season doesn’t have to be a solo effort. This year, you and your loved ones can grow closer and stronger by making physical activity a fun way to spend time together.

Don’t Wait for January to Make a Change

For most people, the holidays are followed by the reckoning—a month of diets, commitments, and resolutions. But if you want to make a change in your health, now is the best time. With the tips you just read, you can enjoy your holiday season and get a jump on your 2018 goals.

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