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Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Even though this can seem like a simple yes or no, it’s really not that simple. What we can say immediately: stress levels will cause a physical toll on your body.

While we all deal with different levels, we all deal with some stressors in our daily lives. At times they are worse than others, and sometimes for a moment, we might think it’s gone for good. 

But as adults, we know that we have to manage stress better. Our children deal with stress as well, so we have to remember that if we promote good habits in ourselves, we can promote good stress management habits for them.

So here we are, ready to answer the age-old question: will stress make me gain weight?

What Is Stress?

Stress is the response our body creates to situations we face in our lives. It’s what happens when our bodies are overwhelmed with stimulation and cannot cope with the tasks being asked of us. When exposed to an unpleasant trigger, our bodies respond to the idea of a “fight or flight response.”

This is caused by stress hormones, like high levels of cortisol. Cortisol, glucose, and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream to help protect us; this is a biological protective measure from our adrenal glands.


You might not realize it, but stress affects every part and aspect of our bodies. Internal and external. That’s right: We are talking down to our nerves and circulatory systems. Stress can wreak havoc on our systems. 

Do You Really Mean Every Part?

No, seriously. EVERY part. Ever had a migraine? Did you notice how it was triggered around the same times as sleep regression in your kids or big projects coming up at work?

Maybe you thought it was just a lack of sleep, but maybe not. It could have been your musculoskeletal system responding to the weight of the world on your shoulders. 

A Gut Feeling

Today, let’s talk about weight gain from stress. First, let’s discuss the gut. The body’s reaction to stress on our gastrointestinal system is extreme.

One symptom will be bloating. You will feel and look like your belly is distended where it used to be flatter. You might notice that it’s harder to button your jeans on these more stress-inducing days.

Bloat can lead to a few more issues, like constipation and gas. When your stomach is bloated, it is usually created by excess gas in your body or constipation. These conditions can be really painful, making the stress you were already feeling that much worse. You can also start to experience acid reflux as a result of these issues. 

The most important thing to understand here is this: your body is a set of working chemical responses. When you stress, your body releases chemicals. Whether these help or hinder you from dealing with stress is the bigger picture. 

So, Does Stress Cause Weight Gain??

The short answer… kind of. For example, with stress, metabolic rates slow. Additionally, high cortisol levels can lead to inflammation and increased fat storage in the abdomen. This location may result in stress-induced belly fat.

We need to remember that these natural responses by our body don’t necessarily mean weight gain. In fact, they really don’t mean weight gain at all. 

However, stress can also lead to an increase in hunger hormones and potentially harmful lifestyle changes.

There may also be mental responses to stress that are more in our control. What exactly are we talking about? Emotional eating.

This is a personal response to stress, not a chemically induced response of some automated system in our body. It is a chemical response, but it’s the chemical response in our brain that we’ve conditioned over time, not the natural responses in our body that we were born with.

Can we control them? Yes. Is it easy? Absolutely not.

Many of the chemical responses in our body (emotional or physical) are caused by years of conditioning that probably started when we were young. So giving our kids the tools they will need to lead a happy and healthy lifestyle when they’re little. 

What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is your mental response to certain feelings and emotions. They don’t all pertain to stress. Many times, emotional eating happens when we are bored. Maybe you don’t have any plans on a Friday, and you find yourself idly passing the hours.

Perhaps you open a large bag of chips, something that should take a few days to eat. Within the hour, the bag is empty. This is an emotional response to eating. We are filling our time with unhealthy or fast food instead of healthier outlets. 

In terms of stress, we often grab comfort foods when the world feels a little too heavy. Think of a long day with your kids’ activities. You get out some ice cream or pizza as a reward for making it through the day. It’s fine once in a while. But, you find yourself doing this daily, if not a few times throughout the day, it might be time for a few changes.

What Does This Mean?

While these are two very different situations, the point remains the same. We are using food as a way to deal with our everyday lives. Our brain is telling us that something is missing, and food will fill the void. 

This is not an ideal relationship with food, and we have to figure out better outlets for our feelings. It’s easier said than done, of course. But if we don’t do it for ourselves, how can we ever expect that our children are capable of it for themselves? If for no other reason, do it for them. 

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Healthy Ways To Start Dealing With Stress

There are a plethora of ways to deal with stress that don’t involve unhealthy eating habits and thus keep your waistline from suffering. What’s important to understand here is this is a marathon, not a race. 

Trying to execute all of these steps will result in a system overload and a negative outlook on healthier habits. Start with one, get into a good schedule, and then move on to the next.

The idea isn’t to dramatically change your life in one day. It’s just like crash dieting. It’s always such an extreme change in habits that our bodies can’t respond well. We end up sick and tired and never healthier in the end. 

So take these steps to a healthier life like you would a flight of stairs. One at a time. 

Calm Your Nerves

The best place to start is dealing with your anxiety and worries. As we learn better ways to handle the stress, the responses we have to the stress change and lessen over time. Once we are able to calm ourselves in times of stress and worry, we are able to better control the way we cope. 

Meditation: Take a Deep Breath

Meditating is a great way to start leveling out our reactions to stress. It's a quiet time to reflect on the activities and situations in our lives and let our brain have a few minutes to turn off and breathe.

This is also a wonderful relaxation activity to introduce to children. It will give your kids a healthy way to cope with life’s curveballs. It also doubles as an easy and productive family activity. 

If your brain needs a little boost of calm, try our ZenPatches. The all-natural blend of essential oils is the perfect aroma to breathe in and let the calm wash over your body. They’re perfect for the whole family; everyone will be relaxing better in no time. 

Sleep

Getting your full eight hours is good for everyone. We are sure the kids would agree. When you’re able to get a full night’s rest, your brain is able to restart for the next day. 

Basically, each night while you sleep, your brain unloads the details of your day. It takes a full eight hours of sleep to do this. When you don’t get adequate sleep, you go into the next day with a brain already half full of information. The same goes for kids, but they’re even more sensitive to this issue. 

Cue the stressors. Let’s say we don’t have the sleep we need, and then something happens that day that causes us stress. But our brain is already working overtime from the day before. So we cannot handle this new stressor even if we wanted to. This is what causes an emotional response, like excessive eating, that we see as a result. 

Proper sleep hygiene has a wide range of health implications. For example, sleep deprivation can lead to disrupted metabolism. Insomnia is also linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.

Ask the Professionals

If you notice that your mental health is at an all-time low, it might be time to seek professional help. Seeking out a therapist or psychologist is a great idea. They give you an impartial outlet to vent about the people and problems you deal with so that you’re not carrying the load alone. 

Many people don’t realize that so many of us don’t have someone we can talk to who will listen to our stress and worries. When we have someone that we can turn to in moments of extreme stress or anxiety, we are better able to work through our situations. 

Don’t be afraid to seek out help for children as well. Sometimes our kids need someone to talk to that isn’t us. It might not be our favorite thing to not be their number one, but a professional will help them sort out what they need. 

Ok, But How Do We Deal With Emotional Eating?

The above-mentioned tips will help you work out better ways to deal with stress. These habits are the first steps you need to better understand, identify and react to the stressors in your life. The reactions are what we need to talk about next. 

Emotional eating is a reaction to stress and is what causes many to gain weight. Like we’ve said before, food is sometimes the only or at least the main source of comfort. So if we have big troubles, we eat more than typical. But it’s not a healthy relationship with yourself or food. 

Here are a few ways to react differently to change the way you see food:

Exercise Routine

Instead of grabbing a bag of chips in times of turmoil, try going for a chill walk around the block. Exercise is a great way to work out our emotions and is a much healthier habit than stress eating. Not only will you lose the weight you’ve gained in the past from emotional eating, but you’ll also find a better outlet for your worries. 

The endorphins our bodies receive from exercise are chemical reactions that help us feel better and more positive. If you or the kiddos are having a bad day, try going for a walk to talk out what’s troubling everyone. You’ll all feel better in the end. 

Healthy Food Preferences

This is another stepping stone process, so be patient with yourself. Slowly but surely, start replacing the unhealthy snacks in your home with fresher options. Instead of buying a few bags of chips, opt for a bag of carrots and a few cucumbers. You still use a little dip but try hummus instead of less healthy options like salad dressings. 

Make the commitment to stop buying junk food options and only keep the healthier ones. This will keep you from gaining weight due to emotional eating.

It will also help instill healthy habits for your kids when they’re young that they’ll be able to keep for life. If you need help, you can always ask a dietitian for advice on calories, portions, and how to introduce healthy moderation.

Try a New Hobby

If you are someone who snacks when they’re bored, try replacing eating with a new hobby. You’ll branch out and learn something new, and you won’t be over-eating as a result of being without plans. 

This is also a great option for kids who eat out of boredom. Everyone will have the chance to make new friends and find new passions.  

The Ways Stress Affects Us

Our bodies respond to stress in a multitude of ways, and none of us are “safe” from the effects. It’s best to recognize those stressors and find ways to cope — ways that don’t affect our bodies and minds for years to come.

We are confident that employing some of these coping mechanisms in your daily lives will have the positive effects you’ve been searching for.



Sources:


Stress effects on the body | APA


Emotional eating: How to overcome stress eating | Medical News Today


Stress | Mental Health Foundation | Mental Health UK

Brain & Cognitive

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