How Does Stress Impact Body Weight?

There’s no avoiding stress. It may be sudden, like after a car accident, or it may be long term, such as when your career creates constant pressures. Just as stress has no singular definition, it also doesn’t have exactly the same effect on everyone. Even when you share stressors with other people, each of you may have your own response. 

There are, however, some predictable body chemistry reactions to stress, along with psychological responses to stress, and this is part of the reason why reactions are individual and varied. 

When you’re suffering the effects of stress, your body weight might change. A visit to Dr. Kochert Pain & Health can help you minimize the impact of stress, whether you need help with weight loss or weight gain. Dr. Carolyn Kochert and her team can help you find a better point of balance for your body. 

Understanding “fight or flight”

The survival instinct is strong, developed from biology overtime to ensure your body is ready in times of crisis to react quickly and vigorously to threatening situations. In modern life, though, the nature of stress isn’t always a sudden, dangerous event. Extended low-level stress, such as pressures from work or other parts of your life, create a similarly extended stress response.

Though your fight-or-flight response is varied and complex, one aspect that has a direct connection with your appetite is cortisol, often referred to as the stress hormone. Your body tends to produce more epinephrine, as well as cortisol, as your levels of stress climb. 

The effects of cortisol

Hormones carry messages throughout your body, and one of cortisol’s duties is to signal the release of insulin into the bloodstream. This allows more glucose transfer from blood to cells, resulting in lower blood sugar, a condition that creates cravings for foods high in sugars and other easily burned carbohydrates. 

Chronic stress can cause long-term cortisol elevation and increased appetite, which is a physical motivator behind stress eating. Sugary and fatty foods “feel” right in these circumstances because they’re comfort foods. This creates a cycle. As stress increases, more cortisol is produced, and your appetite for unhealthy comfort foods grows. 

Over time, this response can become a psychological habit that continues even in the absence of cortisol release. 

When weight loss is the issue

For most, the cortisol effect leads to weight gain, but for others, ongoing stress has the opposite effect. Epinephrine is released during acute stress, which speeds up the heart rate, breathing, and metabolism. Stress can also have negative effects on appetite and digestion, leading to gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and heartburn. The end result can be lack of appetite resulting in weight loss

Weight loss, weight gain, and chronic inflammation are only a few of the health issues that originate from stress. For help understanding how stress affects you as well as assistance in conquering the stress cycle, contact our office in Lafayette, Indiana, by phone or book a visit online. A healthy, balanced lifestyle may be closer than you think.