Can Stress Cause Weight Gain Without Overeating?

With our current lifestyle, it seems that every time we must do more activities in the least amount of time. We have become so accustomed to functioning in this way, that we already assume that living with stress is something natural, something that we can learn to deal with. However, it is not that simple.

Stress is related to many serious diseases: cancer, diabetes, heart attacks or chronic depression, have been shown to be directly related to life under stress.

To the common dangers we already know, now doctors have come up with a new and dangerous possibility: stress increases weight gain.

Discover to what extent this is true, and the importance it can have for our health.

What are the causes and symptoms of stress?

To be concerned, in the sense of dealing with certain issues before they occur, is a natural and acceptable behavior. Human beings function by planning our life, to give us security and direction. However, excessive worries can lead to harmful stress situations.

Various investigations, including surveys and medical studies, have shown that the causes of stress are usually personal, family, economic or work-related responsibilities. Other common causes are lack of sleep, poor diet, poor air quality or the use of drugs or aggressive drugs.

The first symptoms of stress usually notice quickly, and are well known: constant state of alertness and anxiety, coupled with physical discomfort, headaches and other common symptoms. However, more complex processes are carried out in the body due to stress, which we must understand.

How does the body respond chemically to stress?

The body’s way of dealing with stress is to release a hormone called cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which works in a similar way to adrenaline, although in a milder way.

The main function of cortisol is to help us stay active during the day, which is why its levels rise in the morning and decrease at night.

When the sleep cycle is not respected, the cortisol cycle is also altered. Caffeine helps the body release small amounts of cortisol, and that’s why so many people say they need coffee in the morning to start working. However, this only generates dependence, which can lead to more stress, in an unhealthy vicious circle.

How can stress produce weight gain?

Before the human being evolved to life in society, cortisol gave us a boost of energy to help us flee from danger, interpreted chemically as stress. Now, however, it is rare to see someone literally run away from their problems, so that dose of energy is stored, and we continue to live in cycles of stress that seem to have no end.

When we enter a constant cycle of cortisol release, our body generates three types of responses, which can explain how stress weight gain occurs:

  1. Cortisol causes the cells to respond less to the impulses of others. Thus, in type 2 diabetes the body produces insulin, but the cells do not respond to its signal. This is called insulin resistance, and it means that the body can not release fat from cells normally.
  2. Cortisol promotes inflammation, because it causes the body to store more visceral fat, which is around the organs and we cannot touch. The visceral fat is different from subcutaneous fat (which is under the skin, and can feel), and is considered more dangerous because generates inflammatory responses in various body parts.
  3. Finally, cortisol can affect the levels of appetite hormones, such as leptin or ghrelin , making us eat more than necessary and at any time.

How to correct cortisol levels?

Everyone has different methods to remedy stress. While for some people it is quite effective to do activities such as reading or watching a movie, for others, taking a walk or doing physical activities works better. Another aspect that should be taken care of is to give rest to our mind, regulating the hours of sleep or meditating.

Whatever method is chosen to reduce stress, it is important to do it in a constant way, to avoid long-term health problems.

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