Let’s not mince words: all that stress in your life is making you fat. Let’s also not get bogged down in trying to understand the complex physiological reasons why stress is a major causative factor in obesity. You know that important science stuff about our neuroendocrine system, that brain to body connection that helped our ancestors survive wild animal attacks with the sudden rush of hormones giving biochemical strength. Those hormones, adrenalin, corticotrophin releasing hormone and cortisol, are needed to help us deal with fight or flight situations. Unfortunately, elevated cortisol lingers in the body long after the stress has passed, increasing your appetite and making you eat more than you need.
Stress is a way of life in the 21st century. You worry about your job, your kids, your marriage, and all those bills that just keep piling up. For a lot of folks, the effects go beyond feelings of anxiety and discomfort; for these people, stress can mean facing each day extremely hungry, and adding unwanted pounds to their list of worries.
So what do serious people who study this problem seriously say we should do?
Eat Less Junk Food
Junk or comfort foods are easy to eat and are likely to be highly processed, and high in fat, sugar, or salt. We love these foods for both biological and psychological reasons. Elevated cortisol makes us want more fatty foods and sweets. We find it all too easy to forgo the time and mental energy needed to prepare a proper meal; so we instead go to the local fast food joint. We Americans do not cook at home very much anymore. We work long hours and must deal with long commutes, which only increases our stress and makes go for that quick junk food fix at dinner time.
Get More Sleep
60 million Americans can’t sleep; it’s a fact. Our worries are keeping us up at night. Published studies confirm that stress is a major cause of insomnia and fatigue and a major influence on weight gain or loss, due to effects on the chemicals that control appetite. We tend to crave carbohydrates when we are tired and grumpy. Our ability to resist temptation is weakened because of those sleepless nights.
Physical exercise is doubly important. It can decrease cortisol and trigger release of chemicals that relieve pain and improve mood. It can also help speed-up your metabolism to help burn those extra calories.
Try Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is an ancient mindfulness practice that can help us deal more effectively with our love-hate relationship with food. The practice involves learning to eat when hungry and to stop when full, learning to like the taste of healthy food and to dislike the taste of junk food. That right away will help you to lose weight if you’re obese. However, if you go more deeply into this practice, you will deal forthrightly with emotional issues you have about food and you will come to enjoy the eating experience. You will understand how food affects your mood and energy and which foods revitalize you for work and play. A well-controlled study of binge-eaters showed that participating in a mindful eating program led to fewer binges and less anxiety.
Do Stuff You Like That Does Not Involve Food or Drink
Go for a walk, read a book, go to a yoga class with your pals, get that massage, and make more time for friends and family. Those are some things you can do to relieve stress without adding on the pounds. OK, we know there’s never enough time for fun with all those pending deadlines, commitments, and obligations. But finding time to relieve stress will help you maintain a healthy weight.
You deserve to be a happy, healthy person. You’ve worked hard for it.