There is no doubt that life in the modern world is stressful. Could this stress be one cause of the modern epidemic of obesity? Researchers seem to think so. In another study, researchers showed that it may be important to manage stress if you want to maintain or lose weight.
What is stress?
Stress is the way in which our body reacts to a change or event, that may be physical, mental or environmental. The classic "fight or flight” response causes changes in the body. Such as increasing heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
Sometimes this reaction may be a good thing. For our ancestors this might have been a life saving protective response. Enabling them to protect themselves or evade danger. For us, it can give us the energy to meet our day to day challenges. Keeping us alert and able to get on with our work.
Yet, in the modern world there are many sources of stress. Things like deadlines, debt, relationship problems, ill health. Together these problems can cause us to have a continual stress response. With a corresponding negative impact. Stress becomes distress, that interferes with our health and wellbeing. Putting us at risk for certain health conditions. Such as heart disease, diabetes and autoimmunity.
How does stress influence weight?
When we are under stress the body releases cortisol. This hormone is what causes the symptoms of the fight or flight response. Including increased alertness, heart rate and so on. Cortisol also causes the release of stored fats and increases blood sugar. In the short term these provide the energy for fight or flight. After the stressful event is over cortisol levels can return to normal.
However, when stress is a chronic situation, cortisol can remain high for too long. This causes health problems related to high blood sugar and increased fat storage, especially around the middle of the body. Fat in the abdomen, around the visceral organs is the most dangerous kind of fat. Increasing insulin resistance, the condition that leads to many chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Who is affected?
Not everyone reacts in the same way to stress. It seems that some people under stress produce more cortisol than others. Therefore, it may be more important for these people to take steps to manage their stress to keep cortisol under control.
In fact, for most people, the effect of the stress response means that despite good intentions they reach for high sugar and high fat foods. In this way, so called comfort foods may be a subconscious attempt at self medication. Making us feel better under stress, but causing waistlines to expand.
Ways to manage stress
In terms of minimising the impact of stress there are two approaches. The first is to reduce the amount of stress that you are exposed to. Which may be easier said than done. The second is to find ways to manage the stress you can't avoid. For this you might like to read my post How to manage stress.
In terms of reducing your exposure to stress, learning to say no can be very helpful. You don’t need to be a people pleaser. Avoid taking on more than you can handle.
Secondly, if possible avoid those people that cause you stress. Or, avoid getting into pointless arguments with people. Sometimes it is just easier to walk away.
Thirdly, the way news is reported these days, “fake news” or otherwise, news can be stressful all by itself. Try going on a news fast for a week or two. In my book, this would also include social media.
Lastly, while a to-do list can really help with being organised it can also be a source of stress. Why not go through your to-do list and cross off all the things that you really don’t need to do.
If you found this post helpful let me know. Or, if you have some other tips for managing stress why not let others know about them in the comments box below.