Do you reach for comfort foods when you feel stressed?
Many of us do, and it’s been suggested that there’s a connection between the stress we feel and the weight we gain. And now scientific studies have found evidence to back this up.
Stress and the waistline
Ongoing stress can cause the body to release excessive amounts of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol plays a vital part in managing fat storage and our use of energy. It’s known to increase our appetite and encourage cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
Research has shown people with higher levels of cortisol tend to eat snacks in response to stress. This led the University College London (UCL) to analyse the link between levels of cortisol present in the hair with BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference.
Data from more than 2500 men and women recorded over four years looked at 2cm pieces of hair. This represented around two months’ worth of growth and the levels of cortisol that had built up during that time. The study found that higher levels of cortisol in the hair were associated with bigger waist circumferences and higher BMIs. Those studied with a BMI of 30 or more (and classified as obese) had especially high hair cortisol levels.
What is stress?
When you become stressed you may find your breath speeding up, your heart pounding and your muscles tensing. These physical changes are your body’s way of reacting to difficult situations. Once the situation has resolved, your body reverts to normal.
But if you’re continually stressed, your body remains in a state of high alert. This can cause stress-related symptoms to develop. These could be mental symptoms such as difficulty concentrating or making decisions as well as constant worrying. Physical symptoms include headaches, dizziness and problems sleeping.
How to deal with stress
It helps if you can define the cause of your stress. Whether it’s work pressure, relationship problems, grief, financial difficulties or an upcoming event – if you can evaluate the effect it’s having on your life, you can begin to take steps to reduce the impact.
Facing the problem and talking about it with friends and family is better than avoiding the issue as this can allow matters to escalate.
As well as trying to deal with the underlying cause of your stress, you can also take steps to reduce the symptoms. For example, fitting in regular exercise, making time for holidays and breaks, and enjoying hobbies and interests.
The NHS has come up with these 10 stress busters to help you manage the emotions you’re feeling.
Motivate yourself to change
If you’re looking for the motivation to make changes to your life, think of the health benefits both mental and physical of dealing with your stress.
Think about the people and things that are important in your life and make them your priority. Social media’s portrayal of supposedly successful people may hide all sorts of problems so don’t try to compare yourself with others, nobody’s perfect. So be kind to yourself and do the best you can.
By reducing your stress levels, you could also help to shrink your waistline.
How does your waistline measure up?
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