Fight Fat Gain by Managing Stress
When you find yourself under stress, a hormone in the body called cortisol rises in response. This hormone plays a role in the sleep/wake cycle, inflammation, glucose control, and energy balance. If your cortisol levels continue to stay high over long periods of time, this can cause some health issues or result in Cushings Syndrome, a disease presenting as weight gain around the abdomen, and fat accumulation around the face.
Many studies have linked chronic stress to obesity and weight gain, as well. The reason? Stress, for many people, leads to increased food cravings, blood sugar spikes, and poor sleeping habits. But the bad news does not end there. Stress has been linked to a phenomenon called “toxic fat,” also known as abdominal fat storage. This toxic fat has been linked to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome1,2.
None of this is good news, but there are steps you can take to mitigate your stress, prevent fat gain, and feel better during times of stress.
1. Consider Ashwagandha supplementation
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen herb; adaptogens help people cope with stress by allowing the body to be more resilient towards change. In a randomized control trial conducted by Chandrasekhar et al, 2012. Ashwagandha, when compared to a placebo, significantly improved participants’ resilience to stress, improved their quality of life, and was found to be safe to use. Other studies produced similar results, showing that Ashwagandha improved weight and food cravings in conjunction with lowering stress levels3.
2. Eat balanced, consistent meals
Research shows stress can cause changes in our eating patterns, such as skipping meals, or craving only high-carb foods. To avoid the stress binge later in the day, try to consume balanced meals with protein, carbs, fat, and fiber to keep you satisfied and fueled. A good strategy for this is the popular Mediterranean diet, consisting of mostly plants, whole grains, olive oil and fatty fish. In addition to being well balanced, this eating method has been shown to be an effective plan for preventing inflammation in the body, which makes you more prone to disease1.
3. Try to avoid processed or hyper-palatable foods
When stress hits, so do your cravings for high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods. These foods are considered some of the worst to consume because not only are they inflammatory, but these foods increase your cravings for more, therefore entering a cycle of food cravings and weight gain. Instead of opting for a trip through your favorite fast food restaurant on the way home, be prepared and enjoy a balanced meal at home. It is also good to have snacks on hand, such as pre-prepared fruits and/or vegetables, for the drive home.
4. Engage in regular physical activity
You do not need to enroll in CrossFit or a boot camp class to achieve Zen; however, any form of exercise that gets your body moving will help improve stress levels. The endorphins that result from exercise help alleviate cortisol and improve your mood for the rest of the day. Research demonstrates that lower-intensity workouts reduce circulating cortisol levels in the body. So, go ahead, treat yourself to a nice walk or jog.
5. Choosing the correct carbohydrates
Carbohydrate consumption can make or break your stress. Eating processed, highly refined carbohydrates will not do you any favors, and neither is eliminating carbohydrates all together. Instead, go for the balanced approach and opt for serotonin- boosting carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, and even dark chocolate to help balance out those blood sugars and nourish your body.
1..Xenaki N, Bacopoulou F, Kokkinos A, Nicolaides NC, Chrousos GP, Darviri C. Impact of a stress management program on weight loss, mental health and lifestyle in adults with obesity: a randomized controlled trial. J Mol Biochem. 2018;7(2):78-84.
2.Sinha R, Jastreboff AM. Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction. Biol Psychiatry. 2013;73(9):827-835. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.032
3..Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255-262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022