The issue of weight gain and weight management has been a topic of discussion among researchers, doctors, and the common man alike. Earlier it was assumed that weight gain was linked to an excess intake of calories, and simply cutting down on food was considered as the solution. Today, it has become clear that unchecked weight gain is a multifactorial problem that is caused by a combination of factors. Stress plays a major role in the health and fitness of an individual.
Let us explore some of the common reasons for weight gain before we move on particularly to stress management.
- Genetics plays an important role in predisposing a person to uncontrolled weight gain.
- Junk food is rich in salts and fats that make them highly addictive.
- Certain health conditions such as hypothyroidism and polycystic ovarian syndrome can lead to an increased weight gain and an inability to lose weight.
- Medications such as corticosteroids when taken in the long run cause weight gain that is not easy to shake off.
- Excess intake of sugar either knowingly or unknowingly mixed in food items also leads to weight gain.
- Little or no exercise and a sedentary lifestyle are responsible for the culmination of extra calories. Lack of physical activity and long hours of sitting work is majorly responsible for weight gain in most individuals.
- Erratic eating habits with no attention given to a balanced diet also cause a gain in body mass.
- Insufficient sleep can also lead to weight gain. During sleep, our body works to heal and repair the body tissues. Healthy sleep habits go a long way in maintaining health and fitness.
- Substance abuse: Indiscriminate alcohol intake can also lead to an increase in body weight.
- Water retention due to issues such as kidney dysfunction or heart failure can also cause swelling of the body and increased weight.
- Stress: Let us explore the role of stress in causing weight gain.
How does stress cause weight gain?
Stress is experienced by all of us one time or the other. Indeed, a little stress can act as a positive motivator to achieve tasks and deadlines. However, chronic stress that is not managed well can take a toll on one’s physical and mental health. Stress impacts almost all systems of the body at different levels, and chronic stress is a gateway to a multitude of health problems and illnesses.
When the body falls under stress, the production of a hormone called cortisol is increased. This hormone prepares the body to fight stress. Once the stressful circumstances are over, the levels of cortisol return to normal. Under chronic stress, however, cortisol levels remain high.
The trouble with persistent high cortisol levels is that cortisol also stimulates appetite. This is why a person under chronic stress tends to reach for ‘comfort’ food and intakes more calories than required. Hence, weight gain occurs.
Our bodies also slow down the metabolic rate when they are under chronic stress. A slow metabolic rate makes it harder to lose weight as calories are not metabolized at the rate that they should be.
People with sluggish metabolism find it difficult to lose weight and most weight loss supplements aim to boost the metabolic rate for this very purpose (example, green tea). A faster metabolic rate is conducive to weight loss.
Stress can also land one in a vicious circle wherein the weight gain causes anxiety and frustration, and to cope with the same the person turns to comfort food all the more. This leads to a further increase in calorie intake and subsequent weight gain. This way, getting trapped into the cycle of stress and ‘stress eating’ is another reason why people under chronic stress find it difficult to maintain fitness.
Stress may lead to mental health issues such as depression. Among the many symptoms of depression, a complete inability to take initiative is also seen. A depressed person may find it impossible to get out of their room and make the effort to remain fit. This can obviously lead to various physical health problems, unhealthy weight gain being one of them.
Remember that weight gain is not always unhealthy. A deliberate attempt to add on extra kilos systematically and healthily is no matter of concern. It is when the weight gain is quick and unintended and causes health complications that it becomes a problem that needs to be tackled.
The above discussion makes it clear that stress management is of utmost importance. While it is extremely difficult (indeed, next to impossible) to escape stress, there are ways to tackle it in productive methods and remain healthy.
Let us next have a look at these stress management strategies.
Stress management refers to a wide range of methods and techniques that can help a person under chronic distress to channel their emotions into constructive and productive methods to improve their health and quality of life.
Some ways to manage stress at a personal level are as follows:
Changing the way you breathe
Although the most natural of all activities, the way we breathe impacts our body’s stress levels. Chest breathing that we indulge in elicits a stress response in our body. Deliberately focusing on our breathing and using our abdominal muscles to breathe is the right way to lower our stress levels. This is why breathing exercises are encouraged to tackle stress.
Yoga and meditation
These help to relax a body not only physically but also calm the mind. These methods are proven to relieve stress and have many physical and mental benefits. Many poses in Yoga are specific for stress management. Mindful meditation is encouraged to tackle stress.
Progressive muscle relaxation
Stress tightens up our muscles and makes them stiff. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique wherein a conscious effort is made to relax each muscle of the body individually.
Activities like drawing, painting, reading, writing, cooking, baking, dancing and many others can be taken up as a hobby to distract oneself and channel one’s emotions into meaningful art.
Spending time with nature
Spending time outdoors with plants and animals can be therapeutic in lowering stress levels. People who have pets are seen to be less stressed than those without. Morning walks in the fresh air can help freshen up the mind.
Spending time with loved ones
Many people find spending time with their friends and family to be an efficient stress buster. Talking to a loved one, even on the phone, for a short time every day can help lower stress levels as compared to being isolated physically and emotionally.
Herbal remedies for stress relief
One can try herbal supplements and remedies as they have many benefits when it comes to reducing stress. Herbs like ashwagandha are especially known to combat stress. There are many options in the market for natural tablets for anxiety, stress, and mental unrest. These are free of side effects and help in managing stress to a great extent.
There are many other techniques to lower stress levels, and different people find relief in different methods. Whatever works best for you is what you should do to manage stress. Well-managed stress can greatly improve the quality of life and promote health and fitness.