If you've been struggling to lose weight, this post may help you determine if stress is the culprit.
Stress causes weight gain; this is a well-known fact. However when I sought a better understanding of exactly how stress influences weight gain I found some interesting correlations to your daily life. This post will not be covering the stress related hormonal effects that affect weight management, but stress related behaviors.
When it comes to losing body fat, not only is it important to understand external factors like proper diet and exercise, but also internal factors like rest and mental state. Stress left unchecked can wreak havoc on your body transformation progress as many of its symptoms directly impact the ability to lose body fat.
Allocating Mental Energy
When you're stressed, you often do not feel up to allocating the mental energy to grocery shopping and preparing meals. Still, you must eat, so you opt for quicker options like fast food and delivery. Or you grab prepackaged meals from the grocery store to quickly prepare in a microwave or oven. These meals are usually extremely high in carbs, sodium, and fat.
Americans work longer hours than citizens of other countries. You live in a society where life primarily revolves around your job, and that means you need everything quicker. Nearly every product on the market either serves a purpose of convenience or has been altered to be more convenient. You just don’t have much time. Therefore, you may choose to not dedicate any remaining mental energy to exactly what you're eating and the amounts.
Stress Makes Your Body Think It's Burned Calories It Hasn't
Eating food serves a primary purpose of providing your body with enough energy to function. Yes, as delicious as food is, and as fun as it is to eat or cook, the purpose of eating is to produce energy, not comfort.
When you're stressed your breathing and heart rate increases similarly to if you were performing an aerobic exercise. Unfortunately, your body cannot differentiate between an increased heart rate caused by stress and that of exercise. Instead, it does its job and triggers you to feel hungry and replenish the calories it believes you burned, according to University of Maryland Assistant Professor of Medicine Pamela Peeke MD. She also has a book out called The Hunger Fix that uses neurosciences to explain the correlation between behavior "fixes," overeating, and addiction. It really is an enlightening read, and I encourage you all to check it out.
Behavior Caused By Stress Can Make You Burn Calories Without Realizing It
Yes I know, I just got done saying how stress makes your body think it's burned more calories than it has. That is a one hundred percent accurate statement and typically applies to those who are more inactive when stressed.
On the flip side, you may be prone to becoming extremely active when stressed. In a stressful situation do you immediately start cleaning, organizing, rearranging furniture, running errands, or just about anything to keep your mind busy? Without even realizing it you could have been on your feet and very active for hours straight. The added layer of complexity here is when it comes time to replenish the energy you expended. The primary purpose of eating is to produce energy, not taste, fun, or comfort. Yet, the types of food your body craves when stressed, tend to be of the fatty variety. This is because foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium elicit a "feel good" response from your brain, essentially acting as a stress defense mechanism.
Stress Can Prevent You From Knowing When to Stop Eating
Chronically high stress can prevent your understanding when you're satiated.This is because high stress dulls your body's sensitivity to hormones that tell your body to stop feeling hungry. Naturally when you don't feel full, you will keep eating in excess. This sort of behavior is sometimes referred to as "stress snacking" and doesn't just apply to high fat foods. You can be sitting on the couch next to a bag of Doritos or a platter of fruit and veggies. Regardless, you may mindlessly snack on them until you've eaten them in their entirety. Without realizing it, several hundred to several thousand calories can be consumed in one sitting.
It's important to have a good understanding of stress related behaviors. There are so many people who are chronically stressed and have been so for years. The realization often doesn't happen until you are trying to improve your body and behaviors that seemed normal are made apparent as detrimental. It's like a light bulb goes off and suddenly what began as a goal of losing a few pounds opens you up to self-exploration of your emotions and life. Hopefully you now have more insight into stress related behaviors that could be stalling your fitness progress. Your next step is finding ways to alleviate that stress and further your progress.