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Anxiety and Weight Gain: Understanding the Connection and Tips

My whole life, I’ve struggled with weight. When under stress, I snacked, while watching my waistline expand: I felt worse. I found happiness in comfort food-Nirvana! After an hour, all that sugar made me hungry. One day eating thick, crunchy, potato chips watching television, I stumbled upon a cooking show discussing recipes for emotional eating. I learned stress was leading to my gaining weight. My expanding girth was the result of overeating and unhealthy food choices. My body’s response was to increase my cortisol levels. Cortisol stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism while maintaining blood levels. I gently munched another potato chip, realizing I had to control my stress if I wanted to control my weight.

According to Medicine Net, cortisol has many actions in the body. The ultimate goal of cortisol secretion is the provision of quick energy and increased appetite. Chronic stress, or poorly managed stress, may lead to elevated cortisol levels that stimulate your appetite, resulting in weight gain or difficulty losing weight. Researchers say stress and elevated cortisol cause fat deposition in the abdominal area not the hips. This fat accumulation has been referred to as "toxic fat," since abdominal fat buildup is strongly correlated with the development of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes.

Life is stressful. Being a human creates anxiety. There are different anxiety disorders with different symptoms: social anxiety, free-floating anxiety, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, can cause over-eating.

Fatty and sugary foods are the enemy. We snack more when we're sleepy. A University of Chicago study observed that after two weeks of sleep restriction, healthy eaters ate an average of 200 more calories a day, all in snacks. These munchies were often high in carbohydrates and were usually consumed between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.—the worst time, waistband-wise, for needless eating. And increasing 104 calories a day could add 11 pounds per year.

As I “matured” my “baby fat” was still with me. I had joint pain, a bit of high blood pressure, my waist size was 40. Time to change my eating behavior. I was glad I made the decision. 100 pounds later and a 33-inch waist, I was in a better frame of mind. I reduced my stress and weight by exercising, and I rode a bicycle in the neighborhood and to work. The quality of my sleep improved, I was happier, and my confidence improved. I stopped listening to acid rock music before bedtime and switched to soothing music while reading a few pages of my favorite book: Danger Beyond Intrigue on Kindle. I stopped watching shoot-em-up, cut-em-up, blow-em-up, television shows, before sleep time. And I was kinder to myself. I stopped saying negative about myself. I stopped calling myself fatso and said, “I’m getting better and better every day, in every way.” And the hardest of all— I quit drinking alcohol…One Day at A Time.

I consulted with a dietitian specializing in weight loss to help me develop a balanced nutrition plan. Stress-related weight gain can be diagnosed and exclude low thyroid function. Your mental health can take a hit when you unintentionally gain weight due to anxiety or depression. With high stress, there’s evidence of a connection between certain cancers such as pancreatic, esophageal, colon, breast, and kidney cancer.

Before eating, ask yourself are you hungry or are you stressed or anxious? If you're tempted to eat when you're not hungry, find a distraction. Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. If you're in a hurry, grab a piece of fruit. Eat whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Don’t buy junk food. The bottom line? “More stress=more cortisol=higher appetite for junk food=more belly fat,” says Shawn M. Talbot, PhD, a nutritional biochemist. When under stress, go for a walk. About the Author:

Hilary Valdez is a freelance Writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle.

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