Can stress cause weight gain?

We are following everything possible to reduce weight but not getting desired results…?

I asked, what you are doing…?

Keeping calorie check, doing all the household work in this pandemic without a servant, from cleaning house, cooking, washing clothes, dishes and other infinite number of works.

Now the question arises…are these works not enough to burn calories we eat?

There can be many factors responsible for this, but if you are physically fit, non-diabetic, non hypertensive, not taking any medication, then what can be the issue.

The stress hormone

Cortisol is the so called stress hormone, it is essential in preparing our bodies for action—to flight or flee.

In Paleolithic times, stress that led to the release of cortisol was often physical instance, being chased by a predator. Cortisol substantially enhances availability which provides energy for muscles – very necessary in helping us to run and avoid being eaten. All available energy is directed towards surviving the stressful event.

And that’s the point – body is well adapted to a short term increase in cortisol and glucose levels. Over the long term however the problem arises.

In our modern day lives, we have many chronic non-physical stressors that increase our cortisol level. For example, problems at work, marital issues, family problems, sleep deprivation etc. All these stressors may lead to increase cortisol level but they do not result in the vigorous physical exertion needed to burn off the blood glucose. Because of stress our blood glucose can remain elevated for months, triggering the release of insulin. Increase in glucose for long term leads to insulin resistant state or even to full blown diabetes.

Cortisol also causes muscle breakdown, releasing amino acids (small unit of protein) to increase blood sugar level. Again leads insulin release and storing extra glucose as fat.

Hence, it is not only short term stress which leads to reward eating and weight gain, there is a chronic relationship. High cortisol raises insulin level which leads to obesity.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation is a major cause of chronic stress today. Sleep duration has been steadily declining. For one or the other reason people don’t sleep early at nights.

A single night of sleep deprivation increases cortisol levels by 100%. There is a study which says that after five days of sleep restriction, insulin secretion increases 20% and insulin sensitivity decreases by 25%. It may eventually lead to type 2 diabetes. Key hormones which regulate body fatness and appetite are also get affected. Hence, sleep deprivation clearly will undermine weight loss efforts.

In this article I only emphasized the effect of stress on body weight, but stress has lot more deleterious effect on body. It has very harmful effect on heart and blood vessels. It can hamper function of our digestive system and can lead to a very common ailment, Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Stress Management

we all know how to manage stress like exercise, physical activity, yoga and meditation. Stressors of modern life are not avoidable. We have to survive with them. Just change the way you manage them. Practice 4 A’s

Avoid unnecessary stress causing people, work or environment.

Alter your routine. Now you know that even disturbed sleep of one night has a remarkable effect on body, even a late night party has a bad effect on you and creates hormonal turmoil. Only 10 minutes of yoga and exercise can deal with your hefty hormones.

Adapt to your problems. Look at the bigger picture derived from your workload. Practice gratitude. Refrain talking bad about anybody. That gives unnecessary stress to you.

Accept forgiveness and look for someone with whom you can share your feelings. That may change your perspective, of looking at your problem, in a better way.

About the author

Anju Rai Tiwary

Hi, I am a physiotherapist specialized in neurology. I have also done various certification courses like autism spectrum disorder and weight management. I am here to clarify your health-related curiosities.


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