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How stress causes weight gain

how stress causes weight gain

When we suffer from chronic stress , we eat more than we need to allay our anxieties. Results? We gaining. But it also happens that we gain weight under the effect of stress without overeating … Why does stress make you fat? The answer here is from our expert, psychiatrist, and psychotherapist, Gérard Apfeldorfer.

Does anxiety make you fat? If we eat more than our nutritional needs, we gain weight. It seems obvious and leaves no doubt. But stress is also responsible for our overweight, even if we do not consume more calories. Explanations.

Why and how does stress make you fat? 

When the stress is too much to bear, the urge to “fill up” with fatty and sugary foods becomes almost obvious. Why? Because they are the most comforting foods. Unconsciously, we associate them with those of our early childhood… And beyond nourishing our stomachs, they also nourish our emotions.

Gérard Apfeldorfer confirms: “the most obvious reason that we put on weight under the effect of stress is that we then eat more. These are the most energetic, fatty, and sweet foods that best fight the effects of stress and provide some comfort. Many people try to reduce their suffering by eating.

People who suffer from separation anxiety, that is to say, who are very affected by separations (bereavement, divorces, departures, various losses…) often use this kind of strategy. Sometimes, we start to eat more without being well aware of it, and the increase in intakes goes unnoticed.

According to Gérard Apfeldorfer, the food response to stress is natural: “we know that the eater, by choosing foods that he appreciates, activates what we call today his ” rewarding “systems (endorphins, dopamine) which produce a soothing effect. But the anomaly is not to seek comfort by eating. It resides elsewhere, in a comfort disorder, which precisely prevents the subject from achieving comfort by eating! Eating when you need comfort is not a problem in itself when it comes to a one-off strategy. This becomes so if it is repetitive driving: in the long run we eat more than our needs and we put on weight ”.

You can gain weight without eating more when you are under stress. 

Stress is physiological and is triggered in the face of an emergency or when we have to respond to an uncomfortable and complex situation. A series of mechanisms are put in place to help us “survive”. This is particularly the case of adrenaline, nicknamed “war hormone” which is mobilized to sharpen our vigilance. Then it is cortisol that comes into play to provide us with the necessary fuel in the face of stress, by transforming our fats into sugar, a natural energizer in our body.

Usually, all of these mechanisms stop when the stressful situation has passed.

But when stress becomes chronic, cortisol and adrenaline work “full blast” in an attempt to maintain our energy capacity. The body, therefore, stores fat to meet the excessive demands on cortisol and adrenaline. Result? The weight increases.

Gérard Apfeldorfer adds: “Certain studies suggest that you can gain weight under stress without eating more. The state of stress indeed disrupts many hormonal mechanisms, in particular in certain genetically predisposed people. It is advisable in this case, not to put oneself on a diet and to deprive oneself of eating, but to undertake psychotherapeutic work ”.

Stress and weight gain: what solutions?

Getting help from a psychotherapist can help us analyze the cause of our stress and put words into our “ailments”. But that’s not enough.

At the same time, it is urgent to re-educate our eating behavior: wait until we are hungry to sit down at the table, taste rather than swallow what we have on our plate, chew for a long time to feel the effect of satiety, in short, as many essential attitudes to stop stressing and regain a healthy weight.

On the other hand, it is essential to learn to manage our emotions, to no longer be a slave to food when stress invades us. Behavioral and cognitive therapy is one of the most coherent solutions to better understand the vicious cycle of stress on our physical, psychic, and emotional feelings. It is also a way to help us calm our feelings and drive away from our negative thoughts. Finally, it means being able to live more serenely and no longer let yourself be “suffocated” by stress and food.


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