Can stress cause weight loss? Our everyday lives are filled with anxiety, sleepless nights, nervousness, and stress. With the various lock downs and uncertainties related to the Covid epidemic, the recent events have only exacerbated the phenomenon. And stress can impact our eating habits.
Although stress is usually associated with weight gain, it’s just as common to lose weight during stressful periods. Understanding the scientific reasoning behind this may assist us in handling stress more effectively and achieving our weight loss goals.
In this article, we will investigate the correlation between stress and weight loss by analyzing the diverse biological mechanisms that come into play. So, let’s dive in and explore the captivating relationship between stress and weight loss.
The Stress Response and Its Effects on the Body
Life is filled with stress, and it affects our well-being in many ways. In this section, we'll explore the fight-or-flight response and how stress can lead to weight loss or gain, both physically and mentally.
The Fight-or-Flight Phenomenon
When we feel threatened, our bodies instinctively gear up to either tackle the problem or flee from it. This reaction, known as the fight-or-flight response, is driven by stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones ramp up our heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels to ready us for action.
How Stress Affects Weight Loss Physically
Stress can wreak havoc on our digestive systems, potentially messing with how our bodies absorb nutrients. Researchers at Ohio State University discovered that stress might slow down digestion, leading to poor nutrient absorption.
On top of that, stress can alter our metabolism by raising cortisol levels, which prompts our bodies to store more fat and break down muscle tissue for energy. This change lowers our resting metabolic rate, potentially making it harder to shed those extra pounds.
The Mental Side of Stress and Weight Loss
Stress has a profound effect on our emotions, which in turn can influence our mood, motivation, and decision-making – all factors that play a part in weight loss. The mind-body connection is a crucial element in achieving sustainable weight loss.
A 2020 study showed that stress could cause shifts in appetite, with some people craving high-calorie comfort foods while others lose their appetite altogether. These changes in eating habits can derail weight loss goals by encouraging unhealthy choices or leading to an insufficient intake of vital nutrients.
The Science of Stress-Induced Weight Loss
Stress and weight loss have been scientifically linked through different kinds of stress, hormones, and eating disorders.
Acute vs. Chronic Stress: How They Affect Weight
In contrast to chronic stress, acute stress is a brief exposure to intense stressors, usually triggered by a particular event. A recent study found that short-term stress lowers appetite, causing provisional weight loss. Alternatively, enduring stress can make you crave energy-dense foods and make you gain weight. It's important to address chronic stressors to maintain a healthy body mass.
Hormones and Their Role in Stress-Related Weight Loss
Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, is vital in regulating appetite, metabolism, and fat distribution. Elevated cortisol levels can increase hunger and encourage fat storage, especially in the abdominal area. Other stress-related hormones, like ghrelin and leptin, also play a part in weight regulation. Research in the Obesity Reviews Journal discovered that high ghrelin levels, caused by stress, could boost appetite and promote weight gain.
Stress: A Risk Factor for Eating Disorders
It is common for eating disorders to be associated with stress or other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, substance abuse (drugs, alcohol) and personality disorders. Eating disorders impair people's ability to regulate their emotions. Often, deviant eating is a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or work pressure. Even if it is sometimes accompanied by guilt (particularly in the case of hyperphagia), the behavior provides comfort and relief.