Too much stress leads to weight gainStress can contribute to weight gain and difficulty in losing weight — especially if you happen to be over 40 years of age. Let’s begin by clarifying just what we are talking about. What is stress anyway? There is stress in our lives that is actually good stress.
Stress can contribute to weight gain and difficulty in losing weight — especially if you happen to be over 40 years of age. Let’s begin by clarifying just what we are talking about. What is stress anyway? There is stress in our lives that is actually good stress. What a concept, eh? However, the stress with which we are most familiar, the stress that causes problems, is what we know as “bad stress”. Dr. Michael McVay, cardiologist, has defined stress as: “the perception of a threat to my psychological or physical well being — and that I am unable to cope with the threat.”
There are some key concepts here. The first has to do with perception — and it is one of the reasons why your experience of stress is unique. In order for you to be “stressed out,” you must perceive whatever is happening as stressful. In other words this is how individual differences impact our perception of stress — and make your experience of stress unique. The second key concept from Dr. McVay’s definition is “and that I am unable to cope with the threat”. This is another key factor in whether or not stress becomes “bad stress” — can I manage the stressor? If I have good coping skills, then the impact of the event will be less stressful for me.
Now, when the experience of “bad stress” becomes chronic, we have a whole new situation. Dr. Pamela Peeke describes this as “toxic stress”: “Chronic, unrelenting perceived threat, which can have a dangerous, at times life threatening effect on the body; it never allows the body to shut down the stress response; literally the body is poisoned, making you more vulnerable to colds, fatigue, memory impairment. . .” And, relevant to our discussion, weight gain!
So how do we get from “bad stress” to “fat”? The body’s response to stress is complex and we discuss it in more detail in this week’s video program. In a nutshell: when you feel “bad stress”, it triggers an ancient, autonomic response within you, referred to as “fight or flight.” This puts into motion a rather amazing series of physiological changes, preparing you to either defend yourself or get the heck out of the way of danger — and this is all very useful when it comes to survival! It is also designed to be a temporary physical state. After the danger passes, the body is supposed to return to homeostasis.
However, in cases of chronic, bad stress, the body never has a chance to return to homeostasis and it is therefore continually bathed in the “fight or flight” hormones, which is when stress becomes toxic. It is this toxic state that leads to weight gain, as well as difficulty in losing weight. Doesn’t that just make you want to watch the video to find out how that happens?
Of course, what you really want to know is what to do about it! We discuss several methods in this week’s program. The key is you must do something to begin to break this chronic stress cycle and allow your body to start its return to homeostasis. In other words, you must do something different. A couple of simple suggestions to get you going:
Breathe: I know. This something you do all the time. And that’s what makes it so easy! Intentional breathing is powerful. Whenever you feel stressed, take several deep inhales and exhales. It does all kinds of great things for you physiologically, mentally and emotionally.
Relax: Right. That is so easy to do when you are feeling stressed out! Therefore, it can be useful to get yourself some help. Check out a yoga class or get yourself a guided relaxation audio program.
Focus on something you like: When stress becomes habitual, we become more and more locked into what is going wrong in our lives, which causes more stress. It can be very helpful to practice focusing on someone or something (for example a pet or favorite vacation spot) that you really enjoy, even if it is only for a few minutes a day at first.
The American Heart Association also has some great stress reduction ideas. Log on to AmericanHeart.org and enter “stress” into the search field.
Stress can contribute to stubborn weight problems, which leads to health issues including, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue and heart related problems. You also have the power to reverse this trend. Watch this week’s program — Stress Makes You Fat. Really! — to learn more.