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Is stress making you fat?

Did you know that stress can sabotage even the best efforts for weight loss?

In fact, the excess fat you're struggling to shift right now could very well be the result of living in a constant state of stress. Dieting and changing lifestyle habits when you're stressed out is difficult enough, but when the body starts working against your efforts, the result is incredibly frustrating. So how exactly does stress contribute to weight gain and how can we break the vicious cycle?

Fat-promoting stres hormones

The main reason why people gain or hold on to weight when stressed is because of the stress hormone cortisol. As part of the body’s natural response to stress, it releases a hormone called cortisol which, in turn, raises your blood-sugar level in order to give you an instant hit of energy to handle the situation. This natural stress response worked well for our ancestors who used up the extra energy to run from dangers.

The belly fat connection

In today's modern world our bodies still kick into action when we get stressed, except nowadays the stress is constant and we don't use up the extra energy that cortisol provides.

So, when we get stressed over spiralling debt, traffic jams and deadlines, it comes without the natural energy release that fighting or fleeing might provide. Unless you take physical action, as your body is expecting you to, all that extra energy has nowhere to go. So, it gets re-deposited as fat. The reason why this type of fat tends to end up on your belly is because it is close to the liver where it can be quickly converted back into energy — for the next stressful situation.

Uncontrollable food cravings

After a stressful event occurs cortisol levels in the blood can often remain high which stimulates appetite. Your body thinks it needs to ‘refuel' after all the ‘activity' caused by responding to the stressful situation. This is why people under constant stress can often feel constantly hungry. To make matters worse, the body will encourage you to stock up on foods that will refuel the body quickly, namely sugary foods and carbohydrates. It's a vicious cycle of stress, followed by elevated cortisol, followed by that scone you don't need.

Are your stress hormones out of whack?

The natural stress response goes awry when stress is constant and excessive. If the body's ‘fight or flight’ response is constantly on, then cortisol levels will remain high.

A nutritional therapist can test your stress-hormone levels.

However, if you can relate to many of the signs and symptoms below, chances are your stress hormones are out of balance:

> You find it difficult to switch off and relax;

> You have difficulty sleeping and wake feeling unrefreshed;

> You constantly crave sugary and starchy foods;

> Your breathing is shallow;

> You stomach is often in a knot;

> You find it difficult to concentrate and often experience ‘brain fog';

> You have stubborn belly fat that will not respond to diet and exercise;

> You feel easily overwhelmed and anxious;

> You rely heavily on stimulants such as caffeine to keep you going;

> You are easily irritated and often blow up.