Cortisol Levels and Cravings
Your brain creates the stress hormone cortisol when you are feeling under fire.
This hormone is closely connected with cravings—especially sugar cravings.
Foods that are starchy or high in carbs turn into sugars for the quick energy your body thinks it needs.
But, since you don’t really need that burst of energy and don’t burn it off running for your life, the body tends to store it as fat in preparation for future needs.
In order to store energy for the fight or flight response, cortisol slows the metabolism.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that stressed women burned fewer calories than non-stressed women at the rate of 11-pound weight gains per year.
This often causes abdominal fat and creates a vicious cycle: feel stressed, crave sugar, gain weight, feel more stressed, crave more sugar, gain more weight, etc., etc.
Glucocorticoids and Fat Cells
Stanford researchers looked at the effects of glucocorticoids and found they are increasing body fat.
Glucocorticoids are the steroid hormones products by the adrenal glands that increase to higher levels with increased stress.
What researchers found was consistent with weight gain caused by stress: high levels didn’t change anything at first, but if the high levels lasted for longer than 24 hours, there was a doubling of fat production.
The results are preliminary and need more testing, but they explain a lot about why long-term stress proves to be so much more harmful than short bursts.
The researchers believe that if we could even constrain our stress to daytime and stop it during the evenings and nighttime, stress might stop impacting our weight on a chemical level.