Stress is a very normal thing. It comes in and out of our lives. Our brains protect us by releasing hormones to induce our fight or flight response. If we are not careful, too much stress can cause a multitude of medical issues including obesity.
Recently, Scientist have found biological connections to stress and obesity. There are 3 main hormones released that have a direct correlation to this connection, Serotonin, Cortisol and Neuropeptide Y. This proving that when people say they stress eat or crave sweets when under distress, they are not just engaging in poor coping skills their hormones in their brain are actually making things worse.
Serotonin is released from the brain as the feel good hormone. So as the person who is stressed out reaches for chocolate, ice cream and chips, Serotonin is released and food now becomes a source of self-medication. We learn quickly that if we are stressed, I eat this, and then I feel better. Even though you really do not and the backlash of what you ate in the long run will make you feel worse.
Cortisol is the hormone that manages fat storage and energy in the body. Under chronic stress, the body releases too much cortisol increasing appetite and encourages overeating. Because what we crave is usually high fat, high calorie, low nutritional dense foods weight packs on quickly.
Neuropeptide Y is the hormone released to help process our foods. It stimulates food intake, decreases latency to eat and create a delay in feeling satisfied after meals. Under high amounts of chronic stress and poor food choices Neuropeptide Y is released encouraging fat accumulation in the body. The person will eat larger quantities of unhealthy choices thus gaining weight even quicker.
Without proper coping strategies, we can actually change the way our bodies biologically react to food. If you know, you are in a high stress job you need to focus on your total wellness to how you react to stress. This could include eating small meals, preparing healthy option and giving yourself time to de-stress instead of rolling right into the next problem. Gaining weight through stressful times ultimately creates more stress in the future.
Stacie A. Zamperini M.Ed.