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Does stress make you fat?

Dr. Gregg Faiman is an endocrinologist at University Hospitals in Cleveland. He specializes in diabetes, metabolism and general endocrinology and has a special interest in obesity. He is married with three wonderful children.

How stress affects metabolism

Metabolism is the latest buzzword when it comes to weight management. Metabolism, or basal metabolic rate, is the number of calories that the body burns at rest over a 24-hour period. Many factors affect metabolism, both positively and negatively, and therefore can affect our weight. Stress, physical or emotional, is something that seems ubiquitous in our lives and can have a huge impact on our metabolism and weight. Read on to learn about stress, how stress can affect weight, and what you can do to relieve stress and maintain a healthy metabolism.

Stressed couple eating breakfast

Stress and hormones

Stress has a direct impact on our hormone levels. Stress stimulates the production of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol, hormones produced by the adrenal glands as a response to stress. These hormones raise heart rate and blood pressure and, in fact, increase metabolism. Additionally, they stimulate conversion of glycogen (a storage form of energy) into glucose and also increase production of free fatty acids. Both of these occur within the liver and are used by the body as fuel sources.

Acute versus chronic stress

In the short term, the stress response, best known as the "fight or flight" response, is beneficial and designed to help the body effectively deal with short-term stressful situations. However, long-term or chronic stress will take an additional toll on the body. Glucose requires the hormone insulin to be moved from the bloodstream into cells to be utilized for energy. Therefore, increases in glucose production by stress hormones require higher amounts of insulin to be produced. Free fatty acids worsen insulin sensitivity, which in turn requires the body to produce more insulin to metabolize the glucose present.

Since insulin is an anabolic hormone that promotes growth, it can cause weight gain. And weight gain itself worsens insulin sensitivity and therefore compounds the problem.

Less stress means less weight

While we generally cannot avoid stress altogether, finding ways to alleviate it is critical in our efforts to stay at a healthy weight. Often, people will turn to food as an outlet for stress, but this only worsens the impact stress has on weight gain.

There is no miracle stress pill

There are a number of dietary supplements on the market that claim to aid in weight loss by blocking the production of stress hormones. I would caution against these. The body is designed to produce these hormones to aid in response to stress. Not having them when needed could be harmful. If these products really did block hormones like cortisol, this could have life-threatening consequences, as this is a hormone that we all need to survive.

Exercise to combat stress and elevate metabolism

Thus, short of eliminating stress, the best advice is to find healthier outlets for it. Not only is exercise a wonderful way to combat stress, it increases metabolism and improves insulin sensitivity. A healthy diet has also been shown to have a positive impact on stress. While beating stress may not be the solution for all our weight problems, it is a huge step in the right direction.

How to reduce stress

Stress relief mindfulness meditation exercise

Christopher Lee May takes you through the mindfulness meditation exercise. It is a simple but powerful exercise that any one can do. If your looking for a relaxing meditation this is perfect. Hope you enjoy.

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