Module 10 - Stress

How stress can affect your weight


Stress is our body’s natural response to a real or perceived threat.  It is part of our survival mechanism and is characterised by ‘fight or flight’ to escape or confront danger.  Cortisol which is known as the stress hormone is released when the body senses stress.  Like other hormones it is vital to our survival.  The problem arises when cortisol levels are sustained at a high level because this can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Overtraining in the gym can negatively affect the metabolism and result in increased cortisol levels.

Tips to help reduce cortisol levels

Low impact exercise.  Walking the dog or practising other low impact exercise like pilates, yoga or lifting light weights can help.

Good sleep.  This can help reduce cortisol.

Meditation.  Relaxes mind and body.

A well balanced diet with a realistic calorie intake.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY)

This hormone is produced by the cells in the brain and the nervous system.  It stimulates the appetite especially for carbohydrate and comes into play when we deprive ourselves of food or have an extended fast.

NPY is elevated in times of stress and can lead to overeating and abdominal fat gain.

Tips for lowering NPY

Eat enough protein.  Too little protein promotes a release of NPY, leading to hunger, overeating and weight gain.

Don’t fast for too long.

Eat soluble fibre.  Eating plenty of prebiotic fibre is thought to help reduce NPY.

Emotional and Binge Eating

Emotional eating is when we reach for something to eat (or drink) to quell an emotion and often in the absence of hunger.  There is nothing wrong with this, because the ‘treat’ has a calming and soothing effect on our mind and body.  It is perfectly natural for us all to emotionally eat from time to time.

The problem can arise when the need to eat emotionally is taken to extremes on a regular basis and can often be accompanied by negative thoughts and feeling of guilt or shame.  Binge eaters often eat alone.

The need to binge eat may stem from a single traumatic event or a series of physically or verbally abusive events.  These events have impacted negatively on the sufferer.  In these latter examples it may be appropriate to seek expert help to eradicate the underlying thoughts and feelings and extinguish the overarching need.  There are organisations that specialise in help in this area or you might seek the help of a psychotherapist or hypnotherapist.

emotional eating alternatives