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Article by Sylvie Martin

Does stress make you fat or thin? The answer …

Updated on 23 November 2023.

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StressMany of us underestimate the link between stress and weight loss, and continue to think that weight gain is essentially due to what we eat.

However, this is not always true, and psychological factors can have a very decisive effect on our weight and overall health.

Let’s take a look at the effects of stress on weight.

Stress and weight loss: does it make you slim or fat?

stress-and-weight-loss-makes-you-lose-weight-or-gain-weightStress has become an integral part of our daily lives.

Let’s face it, it’s rare to get through a day without being faced with an anxiety-inducing situation. And it’s clear that this state of mind has negative repercussions not only on our health, but also on our weight.

As a general rule, and to better understand the link between this psychic factor and weight, you need to know that when a person is prey to this state of mind, they seek refuge in food. And not only do they eat more than usual, they tend to consume foods that are excessively rich in calories and sugar.

This creates a vicious circle that’s hard to break.

You stress, you eat more, you feel guilty, you stress even more and you eat even more.

Bidirectional effects of work stress on BMI in the Whitehall II study

To determine the importance of this factor in weight management, a study [1] set out to investigate the bidirectional effects of work stress on BMI in 7965 British civil servants (5547 men and 2418 women) aged between 35 and 55.

The starting point for this study was that some previous research had focused on the overall associations between work stress and body mass index (BMI), ignoring the possibility that stress might cause some people to eat less and lose weight, and others to eat more.

The results suggested that the effect of work stress on weight gain or loss depended on baseline BMI.

In lean individuals (BMI <22), work stress was associated with weight loss.

However, in volunteers with a higher BMI (> 27), stress was associated more with subsequent weight gain.

In other words, this relationship is determined by each person’s starting weight and physical condition.

Stress and weight loss: what’s the connection?

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is potentially at the heart of weight gain or regain.

According to research, the weight-loss process itself is a source of stress for some people, and can lead to an increase in cortisol levels. This, in turn, can lead to results contrary to those desired.

Increased levels of this hormone are considered by researchers to be a contributing factor to obesity.

Cortisol, stress and weight loss

cortisol-stress-and-weight-lossScientists have tried to explore possible connections between weight loss, cortisol and the brain.

Chemist Nancy L. Keim, nutrition specialist Kevin D. Laugero, and their colleagues examined several factors that could affect weight management success.

Their analysis included assessing the decision-making patterns of 29 female volunteers and evaluating changes in their levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. [2]

Stress and weight loss: results vary from individual to individual

Recorded weight loss and the quality of fat lost (fat mass or lean mass) varied widely among the volunteers.

This variation was observed even though volunteers were fed essentially the same foods during the weight loss phase, with the exception of dinner.

Volunteers lost between 0 and 12.5kg.

The results suggest that future weight loss strategies should rely more on individualized models to be successful.

Increased cortisol levels may affect eating habits

To find out more about the volunteers’ cortisol levels, the scientists collected saliva samples throughout the day on two different dates.

The first sample was taken at the start of the weight-loss diet, and the other at the end.

Increased cortisol levels have long been considered a reliable indicator of psychological stress, even though they can also be caused by other factors.

This psychological state is thought to be a contributing factor in older people’s relapse to old eating habits and hence weight recovery.

“We found that our volunteers’ cortisol concentrations generally increased from the beginning to the end of the diet reduction phase of the study.

The diet may have been stressful for them. They experienced external control over what they ate, as we asked them to eat only the foods we offered.

What’s more, each person had to endure restraint for 12 weeks, except perhaps during the buffet meal. That’s a relatively long time.

In addition to its association with stress, cortisol is thought to affect our eating habits and how our bodies metabolize fat,” Laugero points out.

“Some animal studies suggest that cortisol contributes to obesity, but the association remains uncertain and controversial.”

Regain control by breaking the stress-eating vicious circle

relaxation-stress-and-lose-weightActing on this connection requires time and patience. But know that you’re not alone in your battle.

You can use natural ingredients that effectively combat stress so you can take control of your life.

You could also explore combining supplements with relaxing exercises.

Even if it’s a slight change in your stress levels, it may be enough to give you time to think about what you’re going to do next.

As well as taking an anti-stress supplement, you can keep a food diary to track what you eat.

You can also turn to friends and family for help in managing stress.

Relaxation techniques have also proved effective: yoga, relaxing music, etc.

There are a number of ways to alleviate stress, available free of charge on the Internet. In fact, you can search our site by clicking here.

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