How Stress Affects Your Waistline
“My job is so stressful,” “My boss is driving me crazy,” “This commute is brutal,” “I’ll never pass that test.” Sound familiar? Of course it does, because we all indulge in these stressful and innaccurate thoughts.
Inaccurate? Duh. Sure, they're inaccurate. This type of thinking claims that stress is created by an outside event – the work, the boss, the traffic or the test. Yet we know full well that stress doesn’t exist until we invite it to live in our heads.
As if stressful thinking isn’t enough of a problem on its own, it will also force you to buy new clothes. Sound crazy? Well, indulging in stressful thought patterns slowly but surely adds weight around your middle (and everywhere else).
As short-term stress turns into long-term chronic stress, our neuroendocrine system doesn’t do us any favors. The combination of adrenaline, corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH), and a disrupted cortisol rhythm eventually increase our appetites, causing us to have more active and passive eating as we sit and stew. Get that? Sit. We expend fewer calories while we increase our eating, irrationally thinking this relieves stress. That’s emotional eating or “above the neck” at its best.
Looking for a laundry list? Stress-induced thinking raises our blood sugar, creates food cravings, reduces our ability to burn fat, increases the rate at which we store fat, causes hormonal imbalances, leaves our cells less sensitive to insulin, increases abdominal fat (the most risky for our health) and raises our levels of fat and triglycerides. All in all, it’s a potent and troubling recipe for “diabesity.”
Stress-related eating has several key indicators:
- It comes on suddenly. (“I must eat right now.”)
- It’s food-specific. (“I have to have pizza and nothing else will do.”)
- It’s based on the idea of food rather than hunger. (“I can’t stop thinking about that cupcake.”)
- It’s based on emotional gratification. (“If I eat something I’ll calm down.”)
- Fullness doesn’t stop the eating. (“I’m still upset so I’ll still eat.”)
- The eating is mindless. (“I didn’t even realize I ate that doughnut.”).
- The eating creates guilt. (“I can’t believe I ate that whole pizza…ugh.”)
The best thing we can do is prevent – not manage – stress. If you feel stressed, ask yourself, “What am I thinking that’s making me this way?”
The most effective way to prevent stress is to answer that question and then rapidly catch your irrational thoughts, challenge their truthfulness, and change them into something more accurate.
Maybe you won’t need new clothes after all. Then again, the money you save on doctor bills can be put to good use – like buying a new pair of running shoes!