Why stress makes you gain weight
Here’s what happens.
When we’re stressed, our brain instructs our cells to release potent hormones. 'When we are in the “flight or flight” response, adrenalin tells every cell in our body that our life is in danger,' says Dr Weaver, author of Women’s Wellness Wisdom. At the same time, we get a surge of cortisol, which tells our body to replenish that energy even though we haven’t used very many kilojoules.
'We crave sweet food, constantly trying to top up that fuel tank to help us get out of the perceived danger that we think we’re in,' Dr Weaver says. As long as the stress continues, the cortisol keeps pumping, and when the fuel (food) is not used, it is stored as fat.
There’s a reason they call fatty treats 'comfort food'.
'When we emotionally eat, it’s never about the food, it’s the way people distance themselves from the way things are when they’re not how they want them to be... it’s the way they escape from how they’re feeling,' Dr Weaver says.
'All of a sudden we feel like we want to empty the contents of the pantry into our tummy.'
This soothing effect becomes addictive, so every time we’re anxious or upset, we crave poor-quality food.
'When it’s emotional, identifying what has upset or made someone stressed is really important and then addressing that is really important too,' Dr Weaver says.
THE DIFFERENT STAGES OF STRESS
According to Dr Weaver, there are three stages. 'The more we understand these mechanisms, the more empowered we will be to make the right choices,' she says.
'Stage one is very adrenalin-based nervous energy, and happens in your 20s. It’s almost like you feel anxious a lot of the time and you can eat whatever you like and it doesn’t change the body shape because they are burning everything quite quickly,' Dr Weaver says.
'If stress is not really dealt with, cortisol is elevated and people will thicken up through the middle,' Dr Weaver says.
'Herbs such as licorice and paeonia can be useful, plus a combination of strength training, flexibility training and exercise with a focus on breathing, such as yoga or Pilates,' she says.
'The elevated cortisol drops, you may wake up and feel like you’ve been hit by a bus – the body is very heavy, the fatigue is very deep,' Dr Weaver says.
'Anything that gets you to focus on your breath, such as yoga, Pilates, tai chi and meditation,' she says.
Most importantly, once you're aware of the way stress affects your body and your eating habits you can change them. That's the first step toward a calmer, healthier you!