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  • 10/27/2007

Is Stress Making You Fat?

stress

All this anxiety isn't good for us. You probably already know that stress can raise your blood pressure, and cause excessive horn-blowing in traffic. But did you know it's one of the biggest factors in determining your weight, as well? Here's why.

Stress Changes Your Body

Stress isn't just something you feel in your head. It's something that trickles all throughout your body. Under stress, your body produces two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline is like lighter fluid, and cortisol is like charcoal. The former quickly burns off the immediately available sugar in your blood, so you can fight or flee whatever is stressing you. Cortisol continues to fuel the fire, pumping more sugar into your blood so you have energy to burn. The problem is that excess sugar coursing through your blood is meant to help you flee the saber-toothed tiger or battle the charging wild boar. It's made to be burned off quickly as you either escape or attack. When the stress comes in a more modern form like a pressing deadline or a stack of unpaid bills you can't literally fight back or flee. And without that burst of physical activity, you don't have the chance to burn off that extra blood sugar. Instead, it gets stored in your belly as fat.

Every time you feel anxious over those bills or deadlines, there's more mush added around your middle. In a recent study at Yale, women who were most susceptible to stress had both higher levels of cortisol and greater abdominal fat than nonstressed women. And the ladies under stress stored fat primarily in one place: their bellies.

Stress Incites Your Cravings

You know the kid in school who always egged you on to do the things you didn't want to do throw spitballs, trip the math-club president in the cafeteria, or touch your tongue to the frozen street sign? That's what stress is: the instigator. It goads you to do things you know aren't good for you, and under pressure, you cave in and do them anyway.

If you reach for chow when you're stressed, it's not because you're weak. It's because you're programmed to do that. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have identified a biochemical feedback system in rats that could explain our stress/craving connection. In their study, the researchers determined that stress stimulated a flood of hormones that prompted the rats to engage in pleasure-seeking behaviors like eating high-calorie foods. While observing pleasure-seeking responses in rats might explain a lot about Charlie Sheen, what does it say about the rest of us? Well, a study done at Yale University found that people with higher stress-induced cortisol levels ate more food including more sweets than people with lower cortisol levels.

Stress Changes Your Decisions

Sure, you have every intention of eating right. But when dinner is something that can be considered only in the 15 seconds of free time you have each evening, it`s awfully tempting to swing through the drive-thru and pick up something that's ready faster than you can say, I'll have fries with that. More and more research is showing that a journey to the fast-food emporium is almost as dangerous as a hunting trip with Dick Cheney. Consider:

One study found that fast food increases the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Subjects who consumed fast food just two or more times a week gained about 10 more pounds than participants who consumed fast food less than once per week.

In the following chapters, you'll learn techniques that will help you take control of your time and your food by:

Planning your meals one day at a time, so you can avoid impulsive decisions

Eating six times a day to avoid extreme hunger ups and downs

Making your own meals, so you know exactly what ingredients are being used and, more important, which belly-inflating ones aren't

You can fight stress with food. With good food. With Power foods.

With food that takes less than 6 minutes to make.

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