Prolonged periods of stress are a huge contributor to weight gain. Find out why and how you can avoid it.

When you are under stress, your body releases a hormone called cortisol that is meant to provide you with a quick burst of energy to make it through the stressful situation – whether it’s an argument with a loved one, a difficult day at the office or any number of other pressures we experience in our daily lives. The problem is that when you are under stress for extended periods of time, the cortisol builds up in your system, changing your body’s metabolism and blood flow, and eventually causing weight gain.

Also, when you are under stress, your body can react in any number of ways, including:

  • Stress Eating – Ever have a bad day and just want to sit back and relax with a bag of chips or cookies or ice cream? That’s stress eating, your body’s way of reacting to emotional pressures.
  • Food, On Demand – When you are under stress often the last thing you want to do when you get home is cook yourself a healthy meal. And many would argue, why should you? There are any number of fast food restaurants you pass in your daily travels, not to mention the pre-packaged meals you can pick up at the grocery store that are a microwave minute away from being ready.
  • Relax or Exercise – This is probably everyone’s biggest challenge. You’ve had a hard day, you probably want to sit back and relax, maybe watch a movie or surf the internet. Why exercise when you can pass a few hours zoning out?

These are all barriers to good health. And each one of them is a part of the reason why you need to use a different notch on your belt, or buy bigger pants. Stress is a problem, but there are simple things you can do to change the impact stress has on your body:

  • Relax, the right way – Don’t zone out in front of the TV or computer screen. Try playing some relaxing music, taking up yoga or martial arts, keep a journal, or spend time with your partner. You need an outlet to release the tension, without dwelling on the stress event.
  • Eat Well, Fast – Instead of reaching for the bag of chips or ice cream, look for healthy snack alternatives that you can stock in your pantry and refrigerator. Carrot sticks give you the crunch of a chip, sunflower seeds or edamame are also good ways to address an oral fixation. If you need something sweet, try raisins or maybe prunes. Skip the soda and opt for a sparkling water. All good options to address your need to snack.
  • Exercise – Believe it or not the endorphins that your body releases after a good workout will help to relax your body, making it easier to sleep and erase the day’s stress from your system. And if you work out with a personal trainer or in a gym with friends, you will add a social component to your evening that is a great alternative to zoning out in front of the TV.

Don’t try to make a huge change all at once. Incorporate these changes slowly over a period of weeks and you will see a tremendous difference in how your body reacts to stress, and to your waistline!