Anyone who has experienced any sort of long-term stress can tell you that it can have just as much of an effect on you physically as it can mentally. One of the most notable physical effects that we look at is our weight.
A recent study explored the relationship between chronic stress (via cortisol levels in hair follicles) and weight (via waist circumference and BMI). Why cortisol? Because cortisol is one of the most influential hormones released during times of stress. It has roles in reducing inflammation, controlling blood pressure, maintaining blood glucose levels, regulating metabolism/body composition/body fat percentage, and delivering higher amounts of glucose to the brain in times of need.
Not surprisingly, it was found that a higher level of cortisol in the hair follicles was associated with a larger BMI/waist circumference. Although this was only a correlation, it is worth noting.
The next question, of course, would be the why; what is the exact mechanism that links stress to weight gain? Unfortunately, researches do not have a clear answer to this. Some predict it could be related to the fact that cortisol receptors are located deep in the visceral fat that surrounds our organs, or it could be related to how cortisol influences our appetite and causes us to crave calorie-dense foods. Another interesting approach could be looking at it the other way around; stress related cortisol release could be caused by the social and environmental stress that comes with obesity. The stress could also be caused by medical conditions related to being overweight/obese.
Whatever the cause, there is reason to believe that reducing our stress could have a positive influence on our weight. Some ways to do this are:
-Focusing on breathing
-Reading for pleasure
-Eating away from your desk/work
-Taking vacations often
-Doing anything you can do to relax
There is also evidence that eating superfoods such as kale, broccoli, green leafy veggies, nuts, salmon, fermented foods, and berries are better at reducing stress than comfort foods such as fried chicken, mac and cheese, ice cream, etc.
Stress less, weigh less!
Stephanie Spoto, CSCS