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How Stress Makes You Fat

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How Stress Makes You Fat

Are you a hard-core Type A? If so, you’re hampering your immune system, increasing your risk of heart disease and cancer, cultivating wrinkles—and probably getting chubby. More and more research is pointing out the connection between stress and weight gain, and all the studies show that constant fretting can make you tubby before your time.

It’s all part of your primal survival system. Our bodies are hardwired to react to serious physical danger, like giant animals with big, scary teeth, by either launching into combat or running like a mad person–the fight-or-flight response. Either scenario requires a sudden, intense burst of energy. Here’s what happens: let’s say you’re cruising through the jungle about 500,000 years ago. You spot a giant animal with big, scary teeth. In response, your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration skyrocket, preparing you to fight back or run away, and your body releases adrenaline and cortisol–hormones that put your system on hyper-alert–mobilize stored carbohydrates and raise blood sugar for quick energy.

Let’s say you choose the “flee” response, and run like a mad person away from the giant animal. You escape. The running like mad burns off excess sugar in your blood; the adrenaline dissipates, and the cortisol lingers, prompting you to eat to replace the carbohydrate and fat you burned while fleeing or fighting.

Half a million years ago, that was all well and fine. But here’s the problem: your brain can’t tell the difference between real and perceived danger—say, harsh words with your boss or spouse, a looming deadline, or a near traffic accident.  Under those stressful conditions, your body still goes on hyper-alert, and the cortisol that floods your body still urges you to eat more–and makes you hold on to fat. Meanwhile, you haven’t moved from your seat.  Over time, those kinds of chronic, low-grade stressors, and the body’s continuous response, take their toll.

You can’t avoid stress completely, but you can keep it from wrecking your life and your waistline. Try these simple ways to chill out and slim down.

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Read more: Blogs, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Fitness, Food, General Health, Health, Inspired Eating, Self-Help, Spirit, Stress, ,

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Lisa Turner

Lisa is a chef and nutritionist with more than 30 years of professional experience and formal training in food, nutrition and product development. She’s written five books on food and nutrition and is the creator of The Healthy Gourmet iPhone app, and has been a featured blogger for many national sites, including Huffington Post and Whole Foods Market. Lisa is a faculty instructor at Bauman College of Culinary Arts and also teaches food and nutrition classes and workshops to individuals and corporations. She's a black belt in Ninjutsu, an active volunteer in the Boulder Valley school lunch system, and an avid wild food forager.


+ add your own
1:49PM PST on Nov 15, 2011

Thanks for the post - and for the responses too.

12:31AM PDT on Aug 29, 2010

Good article, Ms Lisa. C",) One more thing - don't give in to pushy people & avoid them as much as possible. :p

1:41PM PDT on Aug 3, 2010

Stress is a true killer. 2 years ago I was stressed to the max everyday at day while I was driving I blacked out and drove off the road into a ditch. I was not hurt, but I was terrified of what happened. While at the hospital, I found out that I was diabetic and that the intense pressure and stress I was under at work was the final straw that broke the camels back. Now I make a conscience decision everyday to not let stress way me down, I let things go now, I take deep breaths, I visualize calm scenarios, I count to ten or whatever number necessary to calm down, I walk my dogs every day for at least 20 minutes and for the record I walk completely unplugged ... no distractions except for the natural surroundings that I walk in. Stress will kill you ... take it seriously.

11:25PM PDT on Aug 1, 2010

There you go.

2:55AM PDT on Jul 11, 2010

Keep fresh fruits like apples or bananas handy, so you eat that rather than chocolate, cakes, potato chips, etc. For a crunchy treat on the salty side, get Wheatables. Those are good, and so are the fire roasted tomato Triscuts.

6:13AM PDT on Jul 9, 2010

I usually eat when I am stressed but I am trying to break that habit now. I'm doing pretty well at it too. Drink lots of waters and you won't be as hungry.

5:04PM PDT on Jul 7, 2010

stress is a big issue for me. I get ulcers, I'm wayyy overweight. It's horrible on my body.. I'm not sure how to get rid of all the stress. I'm gonna start meditating again which will hopefully help..

2:50AM PDT on Jul 7, 2010


3:20PM PDT on Jul 5, 2010

dancing to one song a day can really help too!

9:09AM PDT on Jul 5, 2010

depressed persons eat a lot.. its best to relax n ensure inner peace for healthy life..

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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