The short answer is...yes. Studies show that Americans are more stressed out than ever and it's starting to show in our waistlines. Long-term stress and overeating have been loosely linked together for years, but scientists may have found the link between obesity and long periods of stress.
A study published in Obesity shared that when measuring cortisol levels (the hormone associated with stress) in men and women, those with higher levels were more obese than those with lower levels.
One interesting thing to note is that researchers at this time are unable to determine whether high cortisol levels cause or are a consequence of obesity. If you've ever had a stressed out body image moment, you can relate to this "feeling of being fat" which causes you to feel more stress.
Controlling stress and cortisol levels is not always easy. Just the thought of having to make a major change can actually cause more stress and be counterproductive. Luckily, there are a lot of small changes you can make to ease your levels back down to normal, and start feeling better!
Start with your hormones.
A cortisol "reset" is one of the most effective ways to get your body back on track. The easiest way to start? Cut back on the sugar (and processed foods if you're feeling ambitious) and increase the amount of sleep. Sounds simple, right? It is. In fact, these two factors can play large roles in your feelings of stress.
Eliminating sugar and cutting back on processed foods help your body get back on track with the healthy, balanced diet it needs to thrive. Vegetables and whole grains provide all the essential vitamins and nutrients you need to reset your body, and when your body is in balance, your mind will follow.
Also giving yourself enough time to sleep and reset will create an amazing difference in the way you feel and think. While sleep might be time off for your mind, your body is working a night shift of its own! While you're sleeping, your body uses that time to internally cleanse and reset from the day, getting you ready for a fresh new day.
Release stress in healthy ways.
Sometimes you get so busy you think the cycle of stress will never end. But taking a break seems impossible. "There's no time!" you exclaim to yourself. You're wrong! There is always time to do something healthy, and if you're a super busy body, you might also be a great multi-tasker. Find ways to incorporate healthy stress relief while you're on the go.
One example might be listening to a five minute meditation as you walk from your car to your office building. Or put in some headphones and get into your own "zone" as you comb the aisles of the grocery store. If you have a ton of errands to run but can map out each destination close to one another, park your car in a central location and use your errands to get in a little extra exercise.
On long meeting days at work, a fifteen minute "biobreak" might seem like the perfect time to catch up on emails or texts. Wrong! This is a time for you to take a break, so give yourself that! Leave your phone behind and take a stroll outside. Or if you can't get to some fresh air, find a quiet place where you can sit for a moment and close your eyes.
Replace unhealthy addictions with healthy ones.
One of the biggest reasons stressed out people suffer from weight gain has to do with the impulses. When you're feeling tired or anxious, reaching for something familiar that can give you an immediate sense of pleasure is usually your first reaction. For some, that might be a handful of chocolate, or a very large glass of wine. While both of these give you a surge of happiness or satisfaction, the effects wear off almost as quickly as they appear. Your instincts to reach for food are halfway correct; you might be craving a little energy or pick-me-up. But water and veggies can do that, too! Trade your chocolate for a big glass of water, and wine for a delicious handful of veggies, and you'll soon find that your cravings have changed, which is better for your body and brain.