Can Stress Make Me Fat?

So, you’re ready to lose weight. You’re getting out of the house to exercise and starting to put together a plan for eating better. That’s all well and good… but it might not be enough.

Maybe you need to relax a little.

The talk surrounding weight loss is almost exclusively centered around diet and exercise. But a third component, your emotional well-being, needs to be given much more attention.

Stress can impact our weight on multiple levels. First, when we are stressed, many of us seek comfort in food. It can also affect our self-esteem, which in turn negatively affects the decisions we make that impact our health, whether it’s eating junk food or turning to some form of substance abuse.

But stress also impacts weight gain directly at the biological level, which has been proven in previous studies. Now, a new study is revealing one way that may happen.

Researchers from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center observed how stressful events experienced within a 24 hour period prior to a high fat meal impacts weight gain.

The study involved 58 women whose average age was 53. After asking the participants about stressors from the previous day, they were given a meal consisting of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat.

Afterwards, scientists measured the participants’ metabolic rate, blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin and the stress hormone cortisol.

What they found was, on average, the stressed women’s metabolisms slowed down. More specifically, they burned 104 fewer calories than their non-stressed counterparts. That could lead to an annual weight gain of 11 pounds.

It gets worse.

Those women who exhibited stress also had higher insulin levels. This leads to fat storage, but also less fat oxidation which is important for making fat molecules ready to be used as fuel.

So, if these findings are true, it means not only may you be more inclined to eat unhealthy foods when you are stressed, you may be burning less of those usually higher-caloric foods. Stress is impossible to avoid, but you can minimize it and even proactively counter it with meditation or other stress-busting activities.

“We know we can’t always avoid stressors in our life, but one thing we can do to prepare for that is to have healthy food choices in our refrigerators and cabinets so that when those stressors come up, we can reach for something healthy rather than going to a very convenient but high-fat choice,” said Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at Ohio State and a co-author of the study.

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