A: I have heard this many times. When your life just can’t seem to get any crazier-you’ve just started a new job, your daughter quit her 4th year of college you’re still paying for, and your mother-in-law is moving in with you because she can’t afford her rent-suddenly you notice you’ve packed on the pounds.
YES, you really will eat differently when you are stressed. Unfortunately, stress can increase our appetite by activating a series of stress hormones that really can impact your weight.
When you are stressed your body reacts in a “flight or fight” mode by releasing cortisol from your adrenal glands. The cortisol in turn raises your blood sugar and stimulates insulin release to boost your energy when you are in ‘flight or fight’ to help you “run” from a stressor.
Unfortunately, the end result is an increased appetite, storage of more visceral or abdominal fat and a great deal of exhaustion when you “crash and burn” leaving you too fatigued to exercise, another reason you may gain weight.
Even though you have a pretty good understanding of what you should or should not eat, stress effects the way the brain makes smart decisions of what to eat for your next meal. Think about it, which would you choose if you are running late for the train, your behind on a work deadline and your daughter just told you she decided to become a skydiving instructor- a nice healthy ½ of a grapefruit or a chocolate donut with sprinkles?
Instead, learn to manage stress and work on choosing long-term gain over short-term reward. The key is prevention. Awareness and management of stress is a start. Get good sleep, eat healthy, exercise and practice “chilling” more than once in a while! Mindfulness training, meditation, yoga and even counseling can help. Even better, pay your mother-in-law’s rent!