Is stress making us fat?

Posted in Wellness

Health experts are now turning their attention to growing indications of a positive association between stress levels and weight gain. A number of recent studies on ‘stress fat’ have illustrated that busy, overworked people are much more prone to this aptly-labeled condition than their less stressed, more relaxed counterparts.

Research shows that stress not only makes our bodies create new fat cells, but also seems to sharpen our appetite and encourage us to binge on fatty foods. Moreover, from the evidence, stress fat tends not to spread evenly over the body but rather to accumulate around the waist in particular, resulting in a noticeable pot belly. What is happening, in physiological terms, is that our bodies are reacting to cortisol, a hormone produced by stress, that causes fat storage. To exacerbate this problem, when stressed we tend to reach for fatty and sugary foods or stimulants such as coffee and alcohol, which only exacerbate the condition, making us nervy and agitated. These types of food cause our metabolism to fluctuate dramatically throughout the day, with surges of activity followed by significant energy dumps. So the sad irony is that stress, once imagined to be a calorie burner, is in fact one of the causes of obesity!

Stress fat is a condition not yet officially acknowledged by health experts, and does not yet feature highly on the public health agenda. This may be because overeating and ‘wearing’ a little extra fat (or adipose tissue, to use the technical term) can often be mistaken for ‘looking well’ on account of ‘good living’ or at worst harmless overindulgence. In truth, however, fat accumulated around the waist (visceral fat) is the most dangerous, as it is known to cause insulin resistance (and eventually type two diabetes), heart disease and other metabolic syndromes.

mans fat belly

The good news is that stress fat is a very treatable problem. Stress and unhealthy living (bad diet, a sedentary lifestyle, insufficient sleep, etc.) very often ‘feed on each other’, so a few lifestyle adjustments may be all that is needed to reduce susceptibility to stress fat. Exercise is one of the best ways of treating stress: a good cardio workout will burn cortisol, the stress hormone, returning the body to a healthy state. Wellness classes such as yoga, tai chi or pilates, or gentle activities like swimming or climbing, are great ways of relaxing, unwinding and relieving tension, while more aggressive physical exertion such as kick boxing or squash, which channels pent-up tensions or anger in useful directions, is another effective stress buster. Studies also show thata great workout makes for improved sleeping patterns, which in turn both lessen the appetite and relieve stress.

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So before helplessly resorting to liposuction, take a look at your lifestyle - see how you can relax a little more, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and be more active and that 6-pack may not be a too farfetched dream!

Liz Andrews
Fitness Manager
Holmes Place Iberia

Posted in Wellness