Does Stress Make Us Fat?
Well it’s a complicated question to answer and without getting too science like I will try to explain!
If I had written this question 5 years ago I would of talked about how the stress response causes the body to release hormones that could directly increase abdominal fat stores, how stress affects our food choices both through lack of time for food preparation and by the increasing preferences for higher fat, energy dense foods. How time pressure reduces our participation in physical activity and we could go on.
All the above are true, stress does make us fatter through those mechanisms I have mentioned above. Or do they?
Last year a group of scientists who looked at the scientific litrerature linking stress to weight gain showed that there was inconsistent results in answering this question. And so these clever people did what is called a Meta Analysis (gathered all the relevant studies on stress and weight gain) and gave them a rigorous going over to give us some conclusions.
Those clever people concluded that for the first time we can conclusively say that psychosocial stress is positively related to getting fat, although and using their words directly.
“ The effects were modest and smaller than assumed”
So it does have a direct effect, but well not as big an effect as we have led us to believe. There were some other interesting conclusions – that there was no evidence that fat around the middle was more sensitive to stress than general adiposity! One I find a real revelation and still would want to see more justification on.
Men also struggle more than women, with findings showing that major life events playing a greater part on the onset of obesity with us chaps and that our bodies have a higher Cortisol response to acute real-life psychological stress.
What’s my take on all of this? Well here is my two pence conclusion.
When scientists look at a question they have to be very precise at X effect’s Y. In this case psychosocial stress increases (although a small effect) fatness. The limitation here is that (and the scientists even state this in their conclusion) at any one time we have multiple stressors affecting us and this is very difficult to measure the total effects.
When we look at our complex lives and the multitude of consistent and different stressors, such as limited sleep, environmental, socioeconomic status and many more, we have a culmination of multiple stressors not only making us fatter quickly but increasing our risk for other diseases.
What is the take out message to the individual? Now that’s a difficult question given how we are so different. So a flexible framework to help may include the following.
- Sleep more
- Movement daily with some harder work thrown in a few times per week
- Eat a balanced diet that is appropriate to that individual and does not promote a positive calorie balance
- Identify psychological stressors and work to reduce them
- Avoid energy sappers
- Be with friends, family and community
- Accept that we cannot do all of the things we would like to do in the time frame we generally set ourselves. Time pressure really increases stress levels
- Practise time out and self -time, use meditation (that suits you) and mindfulness.
Try those those starters.
With 14 years clinical practice in the Harley Street district, Pete has developed ground breaking straegies using a Functional Medicine approach to help individuals optimise and understand their health. Particular specialities include emphasis on the negative psychological effects of stress, weight management, metabolic syndrome develpment, hormone imblances and reduced aesthetic performance.
•Lifestyle/Functional Medicine Specialist
Pete works through the KX Spa, providing initial functional assessment for clients if they need to go deeper. Trainers also refer clients if believed his services can allow people to work out of a rut.
Pete works on demand thus does not have set hours within KX.