How Stress Affects Your Weight and Digestion

We’ve all done it before. We come home at the end of a stressful day and we head straight for the kitchen. Ice cream, chips, cold leftover pizza – we know we shouldn’t eat it, but at that point in time, we don’t really care. The truth is food does soothe our emotions temporarily. But after the feelings of comfort and pleasure have worn off, we usually end up with a guilty conscience and unwanted weight gain.

Researchers from The Ohio State University recently performed a study that examined the relationship between stress and weight gain. The study involved 58 women between the ages of 31 and 70. The women were asked to report whether they had experienced stress within the past 24 hours. They were then given a meal consisting of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy. The 930 calorie meal contained 60 grams of fat, similar to the nutritional content of a double cheeseburger and French fries.

The women were then monitored over the next seven hours. Researchers tracked the participants’ metabolic rates and levels of insulin, triglycerides, blood sugar and the stress hormone cortisol. The study results showed that women who had experienced stress burned an average of 104 fewer calories than women who were not stressed. The stressed women also had higher levels of insulin and lower levels of fat-burning, which suggested that their bodies were storing fat.

Study researcher Jan Kiecolt-Glaser pointed out that 104 calories is a relatively small amount for one day, but if this pattern continued daily for a year, it would result in an 11-pound weight gain (Source: livescience).

In addition to packing on unwanted pounds, stress can also do a number on your digestive system. The enteric nervous system controls digestion, and it communicates directly with your central nervous system. When you’re feeling stressed, your central nervous system goes into survival mode and shuts down blood-flow to your midsection, decreases output of digestive enzymes and affects digestive muscle contractions. These reactions can lead to esophageal spasms, indigestion, diarrhea and constipation (Source: Everyday Health).

Stress eating is a difficult habit to break, but you can make it easier by learning techniques to handle stress before it gets the better of you. Some natural but effective techniques include:

  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Healthy eating
  • Getting adequate sleep