Stress: how it can lead to weight gain

The VITL Nutrition Team / 13 Feb 2018

Surprisingly, the link between stress and its effect on weight has been contentious up until recently


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As we get stressed, we enter the “fight or flight” mode of survival. This means your body thinks it is under attack so releases glucose into your blood to provide energy for your muscles.

Whilst this is useful to give your muscles energy to run away from the woolly mammoth, it's less helpful when you’re trying to meet your work deadlines! 

If this energy isn’t used up for physical activity (eg. running from danger), your pancreas has to release insulin reduce your blood sugar. This drop leaves you tired, irritable and hunting for calories to fill the void. In fact, it can take 6 times longer for your blood sugar levels to go back to normal. That’s a very long time to keep up the willpower to resist the office donut delivery.

Sleep deprivation (a side effect of stress) also has the same impact on blood sugar levels.  

Researchers at King’s College, London reviewed data from 11 studies looking at stress and changes in weight and found that sleep deprivation causes people to take in an extra 385kcal of food compared to those who aren’t sleep deprived.

And these extra calories tended to come from foods higher in fat and lower in protein.  

So here are some quick tips to help you sleep better, eat better and feel less stressed:

  • Stick to low GL fruits and foods

Such as high-fibre vegetables and pulses. These don’t cause your blood sugar levels to rise and fall sharply leaving you exhausted and looking for your next sugar fix. Even fruit contains a lot of sugar and the ones that are particularly sweet (i.e. bananas and mangoes) are best swapped for lower sugar ones (i.e. berries, apples and figs).

  • Manage your stress levels

Easier said than done but make sure you’re taking time out of work and very busy lifestyle for a bit of me-time. Do what is healthy and relaxes you best - a bath, meditation, and gentle exercise.

  • Keep your bedroom a sanctuary

Ban tablets, phones and TVs from your bedroom and keep the lights low to give your brain time to recognise you need to rest in slumber. 


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