Everyone experiences stress from time to time. Changes in work, finances, relationships, and life can all cause stress. Stress affects many bodily functions, and can sometimes lead to changes in a person’s eating habits. They may start eating more or experience loss of appetite.

In this article, we look at how stress affects the body and weight. We also look at how to reduce stress and when to see a doctor for further care.

Activation of the Body’s Fight-or-Flight Response

Stress affects almost every part of the body. Some of the effects on body systems and processes can lead to weight loss in a variety of ways.

When the body is under stress, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the release of epinephrine, also called adrenaline, from the adrenal glands. Epinephrine rush triggers the body’s fight or flight response, which prepares a person to fight or flee from danger.

Epinephrine causes the heart to beat faster and to speed up breathing, which can burn calories. In addition, it changes the way intestines digest food and change blood glucose levels.

Gastrointestinal Distress

Stress affects the communication between the brain and gastrointestinal (GI) system, making GI symptoms more apparent.

Stress affects all parts of the GI system, including the esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and bowel.

Stress can cause GI symptoms, such as:

  • heartburn or reflux
  • difficulty swallowing
  • gas
  • bloating
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increased or decreased appetite
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • muscle spasms

These symptoms can affect a person’s eating habits, which may lead to weight loss.

Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?

Stress can also lead to weight gain, despite diet and exercise interventions.

Research Trusted Sources point out that stress can cause:

  • Poor sleep
  • Increased appetite
  • Desire for unhealthy food
  • Decreased motivation to engage in physical activity
  • All of these factors can lead to weight gain or prevent weight loss interventions.

One should try to maintain one’s exercise routine as much as possible. Physical activity is beneficial for maintaining physical health and moderate weight and is also good for the brain.

Exercise can reduce fatigue and increase overall cognitive function. It also improves sleep, elevates mood, and reduces stress. Even just 5 minutes of aerobic activity can have a significant effect.

The following tips can help people maintain a diet that is good for their mental and physical health and well-being:

  • Eat on a regular schedule without skipping meals
  • Avoid high glycemic foods to prevent blood sugar crashes.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for nutrients and antioxidants
  • Plan meals in advance to avoid making great choices, such as eating fast food
  • A breakfast meal that provides protein and healthy fats after exercise.

How to Reduce Stress

One can try many different techniques to reduce the stress. Strategies that can help include:

  • Breathing and relaxation techniques
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Listening to music or reading a book
  • Practicing time management techniques
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Talking to family and friends
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Volunteer and help others
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol

A person’s diet can also help control stress. One should try to include the following nutrients in one’s diet.

  • Omega 3 fatty acids to help reduce stress hormones
  • Vitamin C helps reduce stress, keep the immune system functioning properly and lowers cortisol levels.
  • Complex carbohydrates to help regulate blood pressure and increase serotonin levels
  • Magnesium helps improve sleep quality and reduce fatigue and headaches.

People with stress should also try to get more sleep and avoid caffeine, which can increase anxiety.

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