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Stress More, Eat More: Why Stress May Be Behind Your Weight Gain

Woman stress eating unhealthy food doughnuts high sugar

They say that weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise, but in truth, there’s a lot more that goes into weight loss than just that. 

For one, stress affects your body in various ways and can contribute to unintended weight gain.

    The importance of cortisol

    The hormone cortisol plays a pivotal role in our functioning 

    Besides regulating stress responses, cortisol also affects metabolism. It also is involved in our sleep cycles: in the mornings, cortisol is the highest, stimulating wakefulness. Cortisol levels drop throughout the day and reach their lowest right around your bedtime.   

    In small doses, cortisol helps regulate our day-to-day functioning. However, in times of stress, large doses of cortisol are doled out by the body and can interfere with our normal bodily functions. You’ll notice emotions going haywire, sudden cravings emerging or being in a constant state of high alert...you get it. 

    How cortisol affects your body

    Girl eating a chocolate bar

    When it comes to managing stress, cortisol is a key hormone. As stress levels rise, cortisol levels rise as well. However, too much cortisol can mess with your diet plans and result in weight gain. 

    It's no coincidence — long-term exposure to stress has been found to be linked to higher levels of obesity. Patients with obesity were also found to have higher levels of cortisol than healthy individuals. 

    So, just why does cortisol affect weight gain? 

    Cortisol and the quest for sugar 

    Why do we always seem to reach for sugary snacks whenever we feel stressed? 

    Well, we have cortisol to blame for that. In times of stress, cortisol rises, but so does insulin. Higher insulin levels lead to a drop in blood sugar, which will cause you to crave sugary, fatty foods that you don’t need. Your body thinks you need it, but really, you don’t. 

    After the crisis abates, your body will resort to storing this sudden surge of available sugar as fat, leading to weight gain in the long run. 

    Cortisol and a dampening metabolism 

    Studies have shown that high levels of cortisol can sabotage muscle building, resulting in a breakdown of muscle mass. Unlike fat, muscles use a larger portion of energy at rest, contributing to a higher resting metabolic rate. 

    This breakdown of muscle mass will lead to lower resting metabolic rate, meaning that you burn less calories when at rest. 

    Besides this, the accompanying insulin spikes also result in higher fat storage, which certainly does no favours to your body. 

    How stress leads to bad habits

     Woman with hands on head looking at laptop, stressed

    Stress is also a precursor to bad habits which may lead to weight gain. 

    Emotional eating 

    Besides causing cravings for unhealthy foods, anxiety from stress can manifest in the form of emotional eating, where one uses food to deal with their emotions. 

    Exercising less 

    With the limited time we have on hand, exercise would be considered a low priority task for most people. Add in a desk-bound job and this bodes to a very sedentary lifestyle which may encourage weight gain. 

    Skipping meals 

    Long hours without food causes the body to enter a sort of survival mode, resulting in more persistent and stronger cravings which may cause a binge episode. It’ll also cling onto fat more stubbornly, making it harder to shed weight. 

    Repeated skipping of meals can result in a slower metabolism, which means your body burn much less at rest, too. 

    Reaching for 'accessible' food 

    When we are stressed, we tend toward food that is more ‘accessible’.  Making informed decisions about our food choices or taking the time to prepare a healthy meal is beyond our mental capacity. As a result, we reach for food such as fast food or snacks that is immediately and easily available. 

    Sleeping less 

    Cortisol can interrupt your sleep cycle, resulting in less restful sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to spikes in the hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which causes an insatiable desire for unhealthy foods. 

    How to manage stress effectively 

    Get moving

    Woman running on the road towards the mountains

    Exercise produces endorphins, natural painkillers, as well as decreases the time it takes to fall asleep, thus allowing you to get better rest and recharge. This, in turn, can help reduce stress. Studies have shown that regular exercise is also linked to stronger emotional resilience, which means that it can help bolster against the effects of stress. 

    You should avoid exercising too close to bedtime, as it can disrupt your sleep cycle. The spike in endorphins during exercise will increase the level of activity in the brain and elevate core temperature thus disrupting your circadian rhythm. So, time your evening workout correctly, it’ll help you get quality rest instead. 

    Remember to put aside time to rest properly after exercise or you’ll just put your body through greater stress. A massager like the OSIM uPulse Mat EMS Leg Massager may be just the thing to help you speed up recovery time. 

    Light electrical pulses will course through the legs, stimulating and massaging the muscles from within, relaxing them and reducing muscle soreness the next day. 

    Keep healthier snacks close at hand

    Bowl of popcorn

    Snacking isn’t inherently bad — it’s all about keeping the right snacks around you. Non-comfort alternatives, such as cashews, popcorn, and cashews, were shown to have the same effect on bolstering mood as comfort foods.  

    Instead of stocking up on those chips, opt for snacks such as nuts, fruits, or even some freshly popped popcorn (but go easy on the caramel and syrups). Put these in an easy-to-reach place so when the urge to snack hits, you can always have a healthier option to curb your cravings.  

    Massage your worries away

    uPamper Lite Handheld Massager Product Shot Flat lay

    Having trouble sleeping due to stress? 

    You’ll be surprised at what a little self-care before bed can do for your nerves. 

    A massage will help to release bodily tension and loosen the muscles up, sending signals to the brain to let it know it’s time to rest. It’s not just us saying this — a study done has shown that just 10-minutes of massage therapy was enough to bring down stress levels significantly 

    A handy massager like the OSIM uPamper Lite Handheld Massager can soothe your body after a long day. It encourages blood flow and melts fatigue away so you can ease into a good night of rest.  

    Using Ultra Hand-Tap Technology, the OSIM uPamper Lite stimulates the soothing chopping hands of a masseuse, effectively releasing built-up tension in the muscles. An ergonomic handle makes massaging hard-to-reach areas just breezy, meaning that all your bases are covered. 

    Stress less for a healthier life 

    Make self-care a priority for a more meaningful life. When your stress goes down, it’ll be easier to get that diet back on track to shed the pounds. 

    There’s an OSIM massager for everyone, no matter your lifestyle. Shop the best lifestyle products to help you manage your stress more effectively at intl.osim.com today.