April 6

Major Life Stresses Can Negatively Affect Your Weight

Stresses in life are going to happen. If we’re lucky, the most we have to deal with regularly are the “day-to-day” stresses of normal life – traffic, meeting deadlines, balancing family and work, etc. But major events are bound to happen, such as death of a family member, loss of a job or maybe even being the victim of a crime. And it appears that major traumatic events like these may be the tipping point to push many women along the path to obesity if not careful!

In recent research presented at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in November, it was found that there was a possible relationship in women between enduring multiple traumatic events and the tendency to become obese. Understandably, stress can have the potential to affect people in many negative ways. Depression, behavioral changes and possibly even an increase in physical aches and pains can come as a result. Any one of those could then become contributing factors to an accompanying weight gain if not managed properly.

The researchers looked at data on nearly 22,000 middle-aged and older women to see if there could be found a potential relationship between obesity and traumatic events. Approximately 23 of the women included in the study fell into the obese category. When relating that to incidence of major stressful events (compared to women who experienced none), they found that:

  • More than 1 traumatic life event equaled an 11% likelihood of obesity
  • Women who experienced four or more such events within a five-year period were 36% more likely to be obese

While the relationships are not a definitive guarantee that one equals the other, it does give some insight to a trend that could be used to help make some early interventions and prevent obesity from becoming just another issue to deal with in the wake of these traumatic events. Stress can affect appetite, eating patterns and food choices, all of which could contribute to weight gain if dietary patterns aren’t kept in check. It can also lead to apathy or general lack of motivation, which may impact activity levels. If exercise decreases AND poor food choices or total calories increases, then there is twice as much working against you being able to maintain a healthy weight.

Stress also increases our production of cortisol, often referred to as the “stress hormone”. It will do things like raise our blood sugar and blood pressure in a “fight or flight” response to real or perceived stresses, thinking it needs to help us out by going into survival mode. Sometimes, that may be the case, and we should be thankful for this response. But when stresses become prolonged or chronic, whether they are mental, physical or biochemical, that increased cortisol can lead to blood sugar imbalances, appetite changes and unwanted weight gain.

So, if stress is unavoidable sometimes, how do we safeguard ourselves from a potential risk of obesity? From a wellness perspective, the key is to entrench yourself in positive daily habits that will help minimize the damage when those unpleasant events occur. Depending on the situation, it will be expected to go through some grieving or healing or other adapting processes after having to deal with these unpleasant situations in life. But they will be much harder to overcome when your body already doesn’t feel or function well because of accumulated health problems.

Diabetics tend to be slower healers. Patient’s autoimmune conditions are usually worse when stress levels are higher. People with digestive inflammation or muscle and joint pains already feel lousy before stress can make those symptoms worse. But if your body is healthy to begin with and is not already stressed by “putting out fires” every day from multiple health challenges, it will be better able to devote more resources to helping you get through a major stressful event and minimize the negative aftereffects. 

When patients go through our wellness programs to correct health issues, they are also building healthy habits that will make their bodies more resistant to the damaging effects of stress. People already entrenched in good daily habits of proper nutrition, regular physical activity and healthy self-improvement are more likely to stick with those patterns and not let the stresses “throw them off their game”. And even if things do get a bit overwhelming and you fall off track, it’s much easier to dust yourself off and get back on the horse than to start from scratch where changes may appear more difficult.

Need help in building a good health foundation? Give our office a call and see where you can make improvements that could help bolster your resistance to the damaging effects of major stresses by improving your overall health. 


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