OBESITY & STRESS

Written by Slawomir (“Swavak”) Gromadzki, MPH

Exposure to chronic psychological stress has been associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity because stress increases production of the hormone cortisol, which when combined with access to calorie-dense foods, promotes the development of obesity.

Another physiological reason why stress, anxiety or depression contribute to obesity is the molecule NPY (neuropeptide Y) which is released by the body as a result of stress and negative emotions. Whenever NPY is released it causes fat cells to multiply and grow bigger!

Every time we experience stress our body produces stress hormones such as adrenalin or cortisol which help the body to handle stress. Cortisol raises our blood sugar level which is required for fast energy. This, in turn, stimulates insulin release which increases appetite encouraging us to replace the carbohydrates (sugar) and fat used for the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, usually people struggling with overweight or obesity live a sedentary lifestyle and dont need such energy replacement. Thus, cortisol ends up causing the body to refuel after stress even though it doesnt need it. As a result, this surplus of glucose (sugar) is converted into fat.

In addition, by elevating cortisol stress stimulates growth of the fat cells, particularly in the abdominal area. And the more fat in your body the more leptin resistance and inflammation you experience.

Too much cortisol produced by stress may lead also to insomnia, tendencies to wake up too early, and other sleeping problems. And, if you don’t sleep properly and long enough you won’t be able to control your appetite because due to insomnia your stomach will release more ghrelin and you will have tendency to develop leptin resistance too.

Due to cortisol and the release of insulin stress also stimulates you to develop appetite for quick energy type foods (high in refined sugar) such as sweets, chocolate, ice cream, sweet soft drinks, etc. Apart from that, because stress leads to imbalance between potassium and sodium which is caused by another stress hormone – adrenalin, you may also be tempted to eat chips and other salty foods which are high in fat too.

Among animals most prone to overeating are probably racehorses. I was told that if they are allowed to eat as much food as they want they would keep on eating almost all the time! The obvious reason of their huge appetite and gluttony is the leptin resistance caused by frequent and powerful stress they experience especially during races. As a result leptin is not able to send signals to their brain cells to prevent them from overeating thus causing these poor and abused by selfish owners and horse racing gamblers animals to become constantly hungry.

Stress control and positive thinking is one of the most important weapons in fighting obesity and overweight. One of the studies showed that six out of ten girls who thought they were fat as teens actually became fat in their twenties, whereas only three out of ten of those who were happy with their bodies as teens gained weight as adults! Researchers conclude that especially girls have tendency to consider themselves as overweight, even though they are not. Such often unjustified negative attitude leads to discouragement, emotional overeating, overproduction of free oxygen radicals in their bodies, and deficiency of very important hormones such as leptin, cholecystokinin, or serotonin without which it is impossible to control appetite and improve metabolism.

Scientists say that worrying about being overweight can actually make you fat. What you need, therefore, is to accept yourselves and avoid worrying about being overweight! The connection between psychological stress and weight gain has been well documented by multiple studies. Behaviorally, stressed-out people will often eat even when theyre not hungry this is known as stress eating or emotional eating, and usually they choose the junk food rich in fat and sugar. Frequent stress causes that more cortisone is required to be stored in fat, thereby increasing the amount of stored fat.

It is really important, therefore, that you learn how to cope with anxiety, stress, irritation, fear, and depression because if you are not able to overcome these negative feelings, it will be difficult for you to effectively lose weight. In the chapter THE TRUTH WHICH SETS FREE you will find the only truly effective way to freedom from existential fears, anxiety, depression, and excessive stress.

 

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www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878%2812%2900201-8/abstract

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