How stress leads to obesity?


Stress is defined as “a phylogenetic response pattern to a demanding situation”. It means that whenever there are demanding situations, we need to respond by bringing about several changes in the body- mind complex to protect ourselves and it is these responses that are called stress. What is important to note here is that it is not the situation that is called stress, but it is the response that we call as stress. 


Stress is an inevitable factor in life, at all times. Every being has resources to enable the individual to cope with stresses; these are psychological, social, emotional, biological or constitutional and financial.

Responses to stress can be positive and negative. Adaptation or adjustment to the stress, leading to healthy growth and living of the individual is positive and called eustress. Maladjustment to stress leads to the warning of a person-these are negative responses called distress. Maladjustment to mounting or challenging stresses leads to a break down of the system resulting in disease, and may act as the source, even of cancer.

Overweight and obesity are related to stress in more than one ways. Most of us have experienced that we subconsciously tend to eat unhealthy food in unreasonable amounts when we are tensed.

 Stress leads to binging - Non-controlled excessive behaviors of indulgence in a variety of activities such as eating, drinking, drugs, chocolate, shopping, etc. which in turn leads to overweight.

Anorexia nervosa - People who have anorexia develop unusual eating habits such as avoiding food and meals, picking out a few foods and eating them in small amounts, weighing their food, and counting the calories of everything they eat. Also, they may exercise excessively.

Bulimia nervosa - People who have bulimia eat an excessive amount of food in a single episode and almost immediately make themselves vomit or use laxatives or diuretics (water pills) to get rid of the food in their bodies. This behavior often is referred to as the "binge/purge" cycle. Like people with anorexia, people with bulimia have an intense fear of gaining weight.

The Hypothalamus stimulates the appetite or the desire to eat and also contributes to balance between appetite and satiety. In case of emotional disturbance, the person goes on eating without attaining any satisfaction which leads to increase in their weight.

Psychological factor is the important factor contributing to obesity. Eating is not just a mechanical thing but it is in the mind – total lack of mastery of mind, which leads to obesity. Eating, sleep, instinct to survive, procreation is common to both animals and man.

The differentiating factor between man and animal is the mind or the psyche. If the mind says ‘you eat’ the body eats. This is what man is! All the above factors like sleep, eating etc. is a psychological phenomenon. If the psyche is disturbed, man can get into problems of obesity.

The standard treatment methods include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These methods have undergone vigorous trials over several decades and are the best forms of treatment. The proof of the same is the fantastic increase in survival in almost all cancers in the western nations.

How Does Stress Cause Weight Gain?

  • Too much stress can lead to the production of a hormone called cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. Therefore, if you feel that you are gaining pounds during the stressed periods of your life despite of a healthy diet, it is the production of cortisol that must be blamed. Cortisol is responsible for slackening the metabolic rate of the body, thereby amounting to weight gain. Hence, dieting will become even more difficult.
  • When the body is exposed to chronic stress, blood sugar levels are bound to fluctuate rampantly. This may lead to unexplained fatigue, severe mood swings and conditions such as diabetes. Diabetes is closely associated with weight gain. Stress can enhance your cholesterol levels by causing a significant risk of cardiovascular illnesses and high cholesterol is associated with weight gain. Hence, these are health conditions intertwined with each other.
  • Stress also interferes with the rate of fat storage in the body and the areas in which it is stored. For example, stress will most often be associated with storage of abdominal fat and storing fat in this region is not only aesthetically undesirable, but also responsible for serious ailments such as cardiovascular complications.
  • Stress is often associated with unhealthy food cravings. When you are stressed or feeling completely down and out, you may resort to emotional eating more often. At such a juncture, binging on chocolates or food items that are high on sugar will be common when you seek respite from stress.  All these factors are bound to contribute to weight gain.
  • Most of us, who are over stressed with our daily work schedules, will be unable to provide time for regular physical activity. Hence, sedentary lifestyles will automatically lead to weight gain.

Natural remedies for treating stress:

Stress can affect the functioning of immune system drastically, affecting the defense mechanism against infections. Here are a few natural remedies that can help you combat stress or deal with it in a healthy way.
Herbs: Herbs such as cardamom (elaichi), aswagandha, jatamansi, guduchi, brahmi, tulsi and shankhpushpi, lettuce, celery, peppermint, chamomile and fennel (saunf) have amazing relaxing properties. Make these a part of your diet by adding it to your tea. 
Oil massage: According to Ayurveda, oil massage is an easy way of de-stressing the body as well as the mind. For even better relaxation, mix in a little powder of shankhpushpi or brahmi into the oil you use for the massage.
Cut down alcohol: Alcohol tends to increase feelings of anxiety and stress. Cut down on your intake of such beverages and you are sure to observe your stress levels becoming much more manageable.



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