This article looks at the link between stress and weight loss, and how to manage stress-related weight changes.
Stress has a direct impact on your weight. It can either cause weight loss or weight gain and this varies from one person to another and in varying situations.
With stress, people make ridiculous food choices or miss meals, while others may entirely lose their appetite for food. All these have a direct impact on the figures on scale. Fortunately, stress-induced weight gain or weight loss is temporary. Your weight can return to normal once the stressor has been dealt with.
Let us first understand stress briefly
Stress can be looked at as a feeling of emotional or physical tension. Stress can be induced by any event or thoughts that make you feel exasperated, annoyed, or nervous. Stress can also be perceived as a body’s reaction to a challenge or injury.
Stressful reactions are called fight or flight or stress responses. A stress response can lead to increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, muscle tightening, and blood pressure spikes.
There are two main types of stress namely; acute stress, which is short-term stress which quickly goes away. You feel it when you fight a friend or bark at your child. This stress is common to everyone, with something new or exited and can enable you to manage dangerous times.
On the other hand, we have chronic stress. This stays for a longer time. You may have chronic stress if you have money issues, family problems, or problems at work. In other words, the type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress and if not managed, can lead to health risks.
What are the signs and symptoms of stress?
Stress involves all aspects of your life, including physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive health. Also, the symptoms of stress vary from one individual to another, that’s why it is important to talk to a health practitioner.
Emotional symptoms of stress may include being moody, feeling overwhelmed, difficulty relaxing, avoiding, and feeling bad about people.
Physical symptoms of stress involve lower energy, headaches, stomach upset, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, loss of sexual desire, nervousness, nausea, dry mouth, and more.
Cognitive symptoms include; constant worrying, racing thoughts, poor judgment, pessimism, and more.
Behavioral symptoms of stress may include; change in appetite, Avoiding responsibility, use of drugs, and nervous behaviors like pacing and nail-biting.
How does stress affect your weight?
Like we stated at the beginning of this article, stress can bring about weight gain or weight loss, and this varies from one person to another and from situations to situations.
First, let us look at stress and weight loss
Stress affects your entire body, the systems, and processes. This causes weight loss in many different ways. let us look at how this may bring about weight loss.
1. Activation of the body’s fight-or-flight response
During stress, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of adrenaline, from the adrenal glands. This activates the body’s fight-or-flight response, which prepares the body to fight off the coming threat. Adrenaline increases the heartbeat and breathing speed hence burning calories.
2. Inflammation and stimulation of vagus nerve
The vagus nerve connects the gut to the brain and sends hunger and satiety signals up the vagus nerve to your brain. Stress can contribute to inflammation and stimulation of the vagus nerve. With high sensitivity, it takes less food for the brain to get a “full now” signal. this with time leads to weight loss.
3. Gastrointestinal distress
Stress disrupts signaling between the brain and gastrointestinal (GI) system, making GI symptoms more apparent.
Stress can cause GI symptoms, such as Gas, bloating, Abdominal pain, Nausea, decreased appetite, Diarrhoea, Muscle spasms, and constipation. These symptoms can affect a person’s eating habits, which may lead to weight loss.
4. Nervous movement burns calories
Most times people use exercise to treat stress. Although this can reduce stress, over-exercising can result in unexpected weight loss. Stress can also trigger unconscious movement, like foot tapping or finger clicking which burn calories.
Let us look at stress and weight gain
Stress can make you gain weight either due to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, unhealthy stress-induced behaviors, or a combination of both factors.
Stress and cortisol
During stress, adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. Next, glucose is released into the bloodstream. This is because energy is needed to encounter the threat. This is also known as the fight or flight response.
Since the body needs energy for which sugar is the immediate supply, sugar or sweet foods are the first things we run to when we are stressed. The body will store the excess sugar during stressful situations inform of abdominal fat hence weight gain.
Apart from craving sugar, cortisol also slows down your metabolism, slowing down the digestive process which leads to weight gain.
Unhealthy stress-induced behaviors
In addition to stress-related hormonal changes, stress can contribute to unhealthy behaviors leading to weight gain. Behaviors such as eating fast, emotional eating, exercising less, skipping meals, and staying up all night (sleep deprivation) have a great impact on your metabolism and are related to weight gain.
How to manage stress-induced weight loss
The only way to deal with stress-induced weight loss is to avoid or put to an end stress responses. Look at strategies that can help anxiety and underlying stress causing factors. This will help your immunity, digestive system, and normalize your weight.
Deal with anxiety to reduce stress levels
Slow down your metabolism through relaxing, resting, and getting adequate sleep
Incorporate yoga and meditation practices in your daily routine
Listen to music and socialize during the stressful days.
Increase carbohydrate and protein intake to build and energize the body. Here is our guide on high protein food with low carbs.
Eat smaller portions – include plenty of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains
Practice mindful eating
Use food that produces serotonin to improve mood. These include; milk, yogurts, and oats
Make use of supplements to deal with deficiencies.
Talk to a nutrition therapist and get help on how to counteracting stress through diet.
What are other Consequences of Stress?
With acute stress, there is nothing to worry about. It goes after a short period. Chronic stress, however, can cause serious and life-threatening health conditions. These include;
Mental health problems: Depression, anxiety, and personality disorders
Cardiovascular disease: Heart disease, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, heart attacks, and stroke
Eating disorders: Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, pica, rumination disorder, and avoidant.
Sexual dysfunction: Impotence, premature ejaculation, and loss of sexual desire in both men and women
Skin and hair problems: Acne, psoriasis, and eczema, and hair loss
Gastrointestinal problems: GERD, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, and irritable colon
Acute stress is short-term and your weight can go back to order once the stressor passes. However, when you lose 5% or more of your body weight in any 6- to 12-month period, see a medical professional, find out the cause and work out a management plan to encounter stress.
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