Stress and anxiety may increase your risk of becoming overweight or obese, says a new study on the subject.
Researchers at University College in London say they have found a link between high levels of the stress hormone cortisol and excess weight. However, they add that they are not sure which came first: greater body weight or the higher cortisol.
For the study, the research team analysed levels of cortisol in a lock of hair cut as close as possible to the scalp. This hair sample reflected accumulated cortisol levels over the previous two months, the researchers said.
Cortisol is the body's primary stress hormone, triggered when you have a ‘flight-or-fight’ response to danger. It benefits you to escape danger, but if cortisol levels stay chronically high, it is linked to depression, weight gain, anxiety and other problems.
The study, which included more than 2,500 adults, aged 54 and older, compared cortisol levels in the sample to body weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), which is rough measure of body fat based on height and weight.They also looked at how cortisol levels related to persistent obesity.
Those participants with higher cortisol levels tended to have larger waist circumferences (over 102cm for men, over 89cm for women), which is a risk factor for heart disease and other problems. People with higher cortisol levels also had higher BMIs — the higher the BMI, the higher the levels of body fat. Higher cortisol levels were also tied to greater obesity levels that persisted over the four years examined.
The link between cortisol and obesity was found for both genders. Nor did the researchers find age differences among those studied. Although the study found an association between cortisol and obesity, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link. The researchers also admitted that since the average age of the volunteers was 68, the results may not be the same in younger adults.
From the study, the researchers could not determine whether higher cortisol levels triggered stress eating, leading to obesity, but nutrition and weight experts know that many who are stressed do overeat.
Managing stress eating is complicated and what works for some may not work for others. Nevertheless it helps if we maintain a regular meal schedule so that blood sugar drops that trigger overeating can be regulated. Dieticians also recommend always putting food on a plate rather than eating right from a bag or box, so you know the quantity you are consuming. Also when eating, avoid doing anything else, Instead of clicking away on the mobile, checking emails, watching television or movies, focus on the food in front of you.