Even though Ding Dongs and Doritos have never solved anyone’s troubles, we nevertheless turn to food for comfort. We often try to soothe our brains by filling our bellies when work gets chaotic, plans break apart, and relationships fall apart.
Everyone has their special dish of comfort food. A bag of chips, a large dinner of macaroni and cheese, or a carton of mocha fudge ripple ice cream can all briefly help someone feel better.
Food therapy has an obvious drawback: it is fattening as well as comfortable. Obesity rates have been progressively rising over the decades, and we live in stressful times, as everyone knows. Is it possible that we’re just eating our way to happiness? Is it possible that stress is causing us to gain weight?
Scientists have recently discovered surprising links between stress, appetite, and weight gain. Simply put, the chemicals we create during times of stress can influence what we eat and how fat is stored in our bodies.
Despite what some late-night commercials promise, this new understanding has not resulted in any weight-loss miracles; you can’t lose weight by popping a drug that claims to suppress stress chemicals.
However, new research backs up what many psychologists and weight-loss experts have been saying for years: stress management is an important first step toward losing weight.
The cortisol channel
Cortisol is a hot topic in medical publications and the media, and for good cause. For one thing, it appears to have a significant role in a wide range of stress-related health issues, such as heart disease and compromised immune systems.
It also aids in the control of fat accumulation, a process that is of great interest to almost everyone. Cortisol can collect fat from the blood and other storage areas in the body and transport it to the belly during times of stress. Individual fat cells can also grow in size as a result of cortisol. Waist size may be an outward symptom of stress for certain people. When faced with a challenging task, women with primarily abdominal obesity tended to release exceptionally significant amounts of cortisol, according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine.
Cortisol isn’t the only stress hormone released, and it’s certainly not the only hormone that regulates hunger. As a result, claiming that cortisol alone promotes weight gain is excessively simplistic. Similarly, she thinks it’s ridiculous to believe that so-called cortisol-blocking medicines may help with weight reduction, even if they can reduce cortisol levels in the first place.
Still, there’s no denying that cortisol has an impact on eating choices. The hormone may help spark a desire for high-energy foods high in fat, sugar, or both, according to animal and human studies. Rats that have their adrenal glands removed lose all interest in sugary drinks, but will cheerfully consume their rat chow, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (It’s also worth noting that they no longer want to run in their wheels.) When rats are given the rat counterpart of cortisol, they develop a craving for sugar and lard, which they prefer over their regular chow.
The stress alert in a rat’s brain can be silenced by sweets and fats, according to the same study. The rush of stress chemicals subsides, and the rat becomes less irritable. If the rat could talk, it would probably remark it feels tranquil, similar to how humans frequently feel when they reach the bottom of an ice cream box.
It’s not always easy to adapt animal discoveries to people. Nonetheless, other research suggests that cortisol may also induce people to overeat. Women who produced high levels of cortisol during stressful events, for example, consumed more calories subsequently, according to a study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Subjects who were prone to eating binges had greater cortisol levels both when they woke up in the morning and after completing a physically strenuous task, according to research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Stress, according to researchers, is especially dangerous — and fattening — for people who suffer from binge-eating disorder, a condition that causes people to go on uncontrollable eating binges regularly. According to Gluck and colleagues in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, around 30% of those seeking medical weight loss treatment have the disease. The experts believe that stress is a major factor in the beginning of the illness. Binge eaters, on the other hand, aren’t the only ones who overeat when things get bad. While binge eaters believe they have lost control of their eating, others may make the conscious decision to eat that additional brownie or slice of pizza, maybe in the hope that a full stomach will distract them from their problems.
Stress management and weight loss
Whatever a person’s underlying food philosophy is, prolonged stress can sabotage any weight-loss efforts. “Weight loss is never successful if you stay burdened by worry and other unpleasant sentiments,” according to an American Psychological Association research. If you’re fighting stress and weight loss at the same time, soothing your mind should be your top concern.
A weight-loss program has been developed by Laurel Mellin, a clinical psychologist at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School, to address this issue. She claims that in order to overcome the need to overeat, people must first learn to nourish themselves and set boundaries. She suggests, among other things, asking oneself two fundamental questions at least five times a day: “How do I feel?” and “How do I feel?” “Can you tell me what I require?” She recommends 30 to 90 minutes of exercise per day to help reduce stress and find balance, in addition to learning how to detect and deal with sometimes buried sentiments and needs.
Of all, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to stress. Physical activity, relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation can all help some people feel better. Others should consult a psychotherapist who can help them change their perspective on life and their eating habits. Others may need to adopt lifestyle modifications, such as taking more long walks and working fewer late nights.
Other weight-loss advice provided by the American Psychological Association is as follows:
Consider what you’re eating and why you’re consuming it. Do you have a habit of overeating when you’re unhappy or sad? If that’s the case, keep in mind that there are healthier and more effective ways to deal with stress.
Avoid making drastic dietary or physical activity changes. Trying to recreate yourself in a day or two will simply add to your stress. Instead, make gradual modifications. Instead of moving to whole new foods, you could, for example, reduce the portion sizes of things you usually eat.
Seek the help of family and friends. Encourage everyone in your family to eat healthier and join an exercise group. As a bonus, you’ll find that social support is a great stress reliever.
A person can feel better after eating ice cream and chips, but the feeling will not endure. Staying well is, in the end, the ultimate win over stress.