Why Stress Causes Weight Gain, and 6 Simple Strategies to Help

October 17, 2017

 Our brains can’t tell the difference between a “real” stress, like a bear chasing after us and a “perceived” stress, like a deadline at work, a fight with a spouse, or looking at your bank account as the holidays approach. In any type of stress, your body’s systems react the way that they would if you were getting ch

 

ased by the bear, which means an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, or your fight or flight response. 

 

Fight or Flight 

 

When you are in fight or flight, your body is thinking “We don’t have any time or energy to do things like digest food, metabolize, or think clearly - we have to just run away from that bear!" So when you eat in a stressed out state, you can’t optimally digest and absorb nutrients, leading to all kinds of health problems, including excess weight. You start producing higher amounts the stress hormones - epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. And the overproduction of those hormones interferes with your insulin production, which is responsible for blood sugar regulation and fat storage. So even if you’re eating a really healthy meal, if you’re stressed during it, you could actually be storing the nutrients as unnecessary fat. 

 

Now, we can’t avoid stress altogether, right? There’s always going to be that work deadline or relationship conflict or financial uncertainty. But there are ways that you might be putting yourself in an unnecessary stress state while you’re eating that you don’t even realize that are changeable, and I’m going to let you in on the biggest one:  

 

Eating too fast

 

We’ve all been told not to eat fast. By why? When we eat too quickly, even if its super healthy, our bodies immediately think “Uh oh, something must be wrong. That bear must be chasing us. We must be on a desert island running out of food!” And we jump into that fight or flight response, causing our digestive system to shut down and our hormones to spike, storing unnecessary fat. Additionally, the hormone that signals to the brain that we’re full, leptin, takes about 20 minutes to fully activate. So if we’re eating a meal in less than 20 minutes, our chances of overeating are much higher. And even if we’re eating something really delicious, our brains don’t have time to register it, so we end up feeling unsatisfied and coming back with cravings later. 

 

So if you’re struggling with a digestive issue, can’t seem to lose the weight even with a healthy diet, or never feel satisfied and find yourself binge eating, start here. Slow down. How? 

 

Here are 6 simple strategies: 

 

  1. Chew each bite for 30 seconds 

  2. Put the fork down in between each bite 

  3. Close your eyes and truly taste all of the flavors 

  4. Take 5 long, deep breaths before you start eating to shift your body into the relaxed, parasympathetic nervous system 

  5. Sit at the table, instead of in front the TV or computer, to avoid mindlessly eating too fast 

  6. Prepare meals and snacks ahead of time as much as possible to avoid being in a rush to eat 

 

You will be amazed by the results of this. Most importantly, remember that it is a challenge and a practice to counteract a lifetime of fast eating habits, so be patient and compassionate with yourself along the way. 

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​© 2016 by Sara B Groton