To understand more about how stress can affect your weight, let’s review a simple definition of stress. Stress is your body’s reaction to change. All change is stressful. Any kind of change that causes your body or mind to react is stress. All of us have stress. We can experience it from any change in our everyday life, our surroundings, our bodies, and our thoughts and feelings. Stress is inevitable. Both happy and sad changes can cause us stress. Long-term exposure to stress, or chronic stress, however, can be harmful to your health, and make it harder for you to get to a healthy weight.
Scientists are beginning to call chronic stress or long-term exposure to stress, Toxic Stress. Dr. Thornburg, Director of The Moore Institute at Oregon Health Sciences University has this to say about Toxic Stress: “Toxic stress, also referred to as chronic stress, is frequent or prolonged exposure to adversity. This can take the form of abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, or extreme economic hardship.”
Dr. Thornburg explains that any type of stress causes a number of hormones to be released directly into the bloodstream. In the short-term these hormones help a person cope in response to a perceived threat. One of those hormones that can help a person cope with stress is cortisol. However, he goes on to explain, when a person experiences chronic stress or long term stress, the body produces too much cortisol and for a longer period of time. He compares it to the “body’s alarm button getting stuck in the ‘on’ position.”
Other studies suggest that when levels of cortisol stay high throughout the day, the body has a hard time adjusting. This long-term release of cortisol in the body is linked to accumulating weight around the middle of our bodies, aka Las Lonjitas. Having extra weight or fat around our middles puts us at higher risk for chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Another reaction that cortisol may cause is an increase in appetite and cravings. It is not a myth that stress can cause you to want more Cheetos, papitas y chicharrones. (That can actually be true!)
So, that is the bad news, Comadres! But the good news is that the better you are at coping with stress, the better your chances are at protecting yourself from its negative effects.
As with anything else in our lives, the first step in solving our problem or making a positive change is becoming aware of it and then coming up with a plan to tackle it!
And, Comadres, please, if you feel helpless or hopeless and all your ganas are gone, or if you have been crying or thinking sad thoughts for more than two weeks, please ask for professional help. Go to your comadre, a priest, a pastor or a nun. Seek the help of a counselor, social worker, doctor or nurse. Tell someone, but please don’t suffer alone. If you ever think of harming yourself or others, call: 1-800-273-8255. En español: 1-800-628-9454
Torres. Nowson. Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Nutrition. 2007 Nov-Dec;23(11-12):887-94. Epub
Harding, et al. Psychosocial stress is positively associated with body mass index gain over 5 years: evidence from the longitudinal AusDiab study.Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Jan;22(1):277-86. doi: 10.1002/oby.20423. Epub 2013 Jun 13.