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Are you stressing yourself fat?

Are you stressing yourself fat?

If you think that being stressed means you’re burning more energy – you’re wrong. Stress affects us in a variety of negative ways, and one of these is that you simply find it harder to keep the weight off. There are a number of medical explanations for this due to the chemical and hormonal processes that the body sets in motion when under stress, but, to explain it in simple terms: stress makes you hungrier, means you crave more sweet foods and reduces fat burning.

What causes stress?
Perhaps the most common source of stress is when working mothers simply take on too many responsibilities, at home and at work – and rarely feel as though they’re doing enough due to a lack of time. This leads to a guilty conscience, which they try to overcome by working even more, sleeping even less – and the whole stress cycle begins. There are also other types of stress that cannot always be dealt with alone, such as bereavement, divorce, friends letting you down, financial hardship or losing your job. But the factors below can also cause your body to become stressed:
• Insomnia
• Chronic infection
• Inflammation
• Autoimmune diseases
• Environmental toxins
• Dieting
• Excessive exercise

The various ways stress affects your weight:
• It increases cravings for junk food. When we are stressed, the brain’s emotional centre tends to want to be satisfied by junk food and/or sugary foods. Sugar gives the brain the fuel it thinks it needs (glucose), and so it’s easier to indulge in sweets and other treats when you’re under pressure, even if you don’t usually give in to those kinds of temptations.

• Stress causes your body to destroy the good bacteria that lives in your gut. Once this bacteria is eliminated, our digestive system deteriorates, leading to problems with digesting food, constipation, bloating, and more.

• When we are short of time or under other kinds of stress, we subconsciously ‘compromise’ our decision-making. This means that healthy habits that would otherwise be second nature get dropped due to poorer discipline, because we have ‘compromised’ them in favour of other things. That’s why we tend to ‘forget’ about our workouts or the fact that we had planned a healthy dinner rather than to grab something unhealthy on the go.

• Stress slows the body down in order to calm it down – which affects our metabolism. Even everyday activities become more difficult to perform due to the change in metabolism. And exercising becomes especially challenging.

• You crave alcohol more than usual, which is due to the same reward centre in the part of your brain that controls emotional eating. Lots of people also associate alcohol and a glass of wine with ‘unwinding’ and ‘destressing’, but this is only temporary ‘relaxation’, because shortly afterwards the body has to take care of burning the alcohol itself (which is very high in calories), and, in doing so, simply stops burning fat.

• The body’s hormones are negatively affected by stress, and the thyroid gland, which is responsible for your metabolism, goes into overdrive, which means the process of converting the food you eat into energy slows down. Your oestrogen production also increases when you are stressed, and oestrogen is a hormone that attracts fat and likes to store it in your body. Your ability to burn fat is diminished due to insulin production, putting your body into a temporary fat-storage mode.

• It triggers your body to store fat deposits around your waist/middle of your body. Our bodies end up in a state of imbalance in stressful situations. When we get stressed, the body produces glucose, which turns into fat that usually settles somewhere around the stomach/midsection.

Updated February 8, 2022

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