When a person encounters a stressful situation, their immediate stress response is associated with a temporary loss of appetite as their body releases adrenaline which prepares it to fight or flee from the stressor.
However, as the stress becomes chronic many people notice that their appetite increases significantly leading to weight gain. This is attributed to the stress hormone cortisol which instructs the body to replenish the energy stores that it used to prepare itself to fight or flee from the stressor.
A study found that women who secreted more cortisol when they were stressed ate more foods which were high in sugar and fat (1). This explains why many stressed people find themselves reaching for comfort foods like chocolate cakes and brownies which lead to weight gain.
Excessive amounts of cortisol are also known to slow down the metabolism and make the person gain more weight than they normally would.
Though stress predisposes an individual to gaining weight, the following tips can help you attain your weight loss goal even if you are going through a stressful period.
Stress has numerous symptoms which include headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, constipation, frequent colds, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, irritability and low libido.
However, not everyone develops all these symptoms. It is therefore imperative to know your own stress symptoms so that when you develop them, you can acknowledge that you are stressed and begin dealing with the source of the stress effectively.
Acknowledging you are stressed will also help you avoid eating due to the stress rather than hunger.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques can trigger the relaxation response which stops the series of changes in the body that develop when a person is stressed and make them gain weight.
Abdominal breathing is one very effective technique which reduces the effects of stress on the body. To use this technique, lie down in a comfortable place and take a deep breath through your mouth until your abdomen rises, hold your breath for a few moments and then exhale completely until it falls. Repeat taking the deep breathing several times until you begin to feel relaxed.
Meditation is another effective relaxation technique that can help you reduce the effects of stress on your body.
Other activities that can help you relax include getting regular massages, journaling and taking time to laugh.
Engaging in hobbies that you enjoy and that do not involve food can also help you manage stress effectively. These can include reading a book, listening to music and even singing.
Exercise Aerobically Regularly
Exercising regularly is one of the best things you can do when you are stressed and you want to lose weight. This is due to the fact that aerobic exercises are excellent relaxation techniques that also reduce the levels of circulating stress hormones.
Aerobic exercises also make you feel better since they result in the release of endorphins which are the body’s feel good hormones. Feeling better can help reduce your chances of eating to soothe troubled emotions.
In addition, aerobic exercises also help you burn calories and lose pounds. They also speed up your metabolism and this helps your body burn more calories.
To reap these benefits, schedule at least 30 minutes to exercise aerobically each day if you are stressed.
As you do so, choose an aerobic exercise that you enjoy so that you do not increase your stress by forcing yourself to exercise.
Aerobic exercises that can help you manage stress and weight simultaneously include walking, jogging, swimming or taking spinning and dancing classes.
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- Epel, E., R. Lapidus, B. McEwen, et al. Stress may add bite to appetite in women: a laboratory study of stress-induced cortisol and eating behavior. Psychoneuroendocrinology 26: 37-49, 2001.