Stress - what's our relationship between stress and overeating?

Stress - what's our relationship between stress and overeating?

If you’re experiencing weight gain around the middle and you feel you’re doing everything you’re supposed to, in relation to food and drink, it’s worth taking the next few minutes to consider whether stress is a key factor affecting your midlife body.

Maybe you’ve tried eating and drinking what you know is good for you and you’ve been doing really well. But bear in mind that we are affected by more than just what we put in our bodies. 

Our bodies don’t work in isolation, we’re really affected by the environment around us. For example, we’re affected by what we put onto our skin - think nicotine or HRT patches. But there’s something other than diet that has a huge impact on our weight in midlife and that something is … stress. 

We hear a lot about stress but it can directly affect the weight that you carry, particularly the weight that you carry around the middle. 

And here’s why.

What Stress Does to Our Bodies

It makes us overeat. So the body perceives that we need calories to deal with the stress. In prehistoric times our stress would probably involve being chased by a woolly mammoth! 

So the body thinks we need calories to deal with our stress, such as running away from said woolly mammoth, and so it gives us hunger cravings and then we overeat. In our modern day lives though our stress is not being chased by a woolly mammoth, it’s a pile of emails or the kids screaming or work pressures. So although we don’t actually need those extra calories our bodies are designed to bring those calories on board so that we can deal with potential physical stressors. And that really affects weight gain around the middle. 

Another issue is our stress hormone, cortisol; when cortisol is raised what it does is also raise insulin. For those of you who’ve been around long enough to hear me talk about blood sugar balance, that increase in insulin increases our appetite to eat junk food, and gets us craving sugary, fatty foods.

And basically that starts a cravings cycle, of eating too much and that doesn’t help our weight either. That’s why when I do my 12 week programme with clients we look at stress in detail. I like to tackle it head on and we talk about all sorts of strategies because of the cortisol response which holds onto the body fat, particularly around the middle.

Eating can make us feel less stressed because the chemical response from the body when you eat can actually dampen down those stressy feelings. So you eat to feel less stressed, but that doesn’t deal with the stress itself. And it doesn’t help that kind of vicious circle of overeating. You get stressed, you overeat and it becomes a habit. And so if that stress keeps going, the overeating keeps going and unfortunately the weight keeps going as well. 

If you want to find out more about the 12 week Real-life Midlife Weightloss Programme then why not chat to me? We'll talk through where you are now and what you want to achieve and whether the programme is the right thing for you. I'm not going to hard sell to you as I only offer the programme to midlifers who are motivated to change! Book a call here

Stress Busters

So, what can you do about it? 

There's a number of things you probably already know about handling stress. We’re all very individual so it's really a case of trying to find what works for you. So everything from exercise (but not too strenuous), reading a book, taking a bath, talking to friends, listening to music, getting some sleep. Sleep is especially important and there is lots of research around how a lack of sleep is tied into overeating and weight gain

For me, stress busters usually involve peace and quiet, being outside, hugging a mug of tea, turmeric latte or a herbal tea. Other ways involve water - being in it or walking beside it, or drinking it, I guess! Meditation is another one I try to use regularly; I’m a big fan of the Headspace app and other clients have used the Calm app. And, I hardly ever do it but, aromatherapy massage would probably be my absolute top stress buster :)

Do your best with trying to reduce your stress levels. I know it’s a bit kind of intangible and that makes it difficult to monitor. It’s not as easy as being told to drink 500 mls of water 4 times a day - it’s not as structured or as easy to implement as that. 

But be aware of your stress levels. I often have clients who say they notice that when they are more stressed they eat more. And when they eat they feel better so it’s all about trying to break that cycle. 

Let me know in the comments below what your favourite tactic is for handling stress. I’d love to hear them! 


Content Disclaimer

The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this blog are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this blog. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this blog. Midlife Menu Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this blog.