Can stress make you fat?
It is well established that chronic stress is associated with some serious conditions such as heart disease. Surprisingly, it has now also been linked with putting on weight.
But why might stress be linked to weight gain, and is there anything we can do about it?
A key risk factor in putting on weight is elevated blood sugar levels.
When you’re stressed you release a variety of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These trigger the release of glucose from the liver into the blood stream, and this provides a ready supply of energy for your muscles.
This response is thought to have been useful for our survival in the past, for example when escaping predators. However, many of us now experience stress in a far more sedentary context, such as sitting at a desk, where we are not using up the glucose in our blood stream.
If blood glucose is not used immediately by the muscles, then a proportion may be converted to fat. It may also make the body more resistant to the effects of insulin that would normally lower blood glucose. If this happens regularly in a susceptible person, this could increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
So, what can we do about it?
First, try a stress-reducing activity – such as mindfulness, exercise or outdoor pursuits, which can all help as long as you choose one you enjoy. Social contact can also help – so try to spend time with others.
Secondly, modify your diet: however tempting, don’t reach for the sugary junk foods when you’re stressed as these are exactly what you need least. Instead, try healthier snacks such as nuts.