What is stress?
When humans were hunters and gatherers stress was a very useful mechanism. Stress causes the body to produce a hormone called Cortisol, which stimulates the release of sugar (energy) into the bloodstream to be used by your muscles. This, among other chemical reactions, is commonly known as the “fight or flight response”. Back in the day, a quick influx of energy could be the difference between life and death if a wild animal was attacking you.
The problem with the stress response for us in the developed world is it’s not too often that we are attacked by a wild animal anymore. Our stressors these days are more of things like loads of debt, a disappointing email, a shitty partner or a low battery on your phone, none of which require any physical effort (except maybe the shitty partner).
How Does Stress Cause Fat Gain?
The issue is that your body doesn’t recognize what “type” of stress it is and releases the sugar into your bloodstream anyway. Since your body doesn’t need it and can’t use it, it’s stored as something called visceral fat. Visceral fat is the unhealthiest type of fat and is typically found around the lower abs and waist area.
Even worse, the more visceral fat you have, the more cortisol your body will produce, adding insult to injury.
What Happens If I Stress Too Often?
A rise in cortisol levels every so often isn’t such a big deal, however a significant amount of people in todays world illicit this stress response constantly. Chronic stress (constant cortisol release) creates poor fat metabolism as well as increased demand for sugar (ie. craving for sugary foods) and fat storage, resulting in fat gain. It can also increase anxiety, depression, irritability and weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to common colds, disease and illness.
Chronic stress is an epidemic these days contributing to many of the common diseases and illness affecting millions of people world-wide, yet most people don’t realize the harmful affects that come along with it.
For ways to limit your stress check out: 5 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health and Quiet the Voice in Your Head