Is stress making you fat?

overweight stressed woman

As a nutritionist, TV presenter and busy mum, my approach to weight loss has evolved over the years. In short, I have taken my medical studies and nutritional research and combined them with a hefty dose of ‘real life' experience to create my own, highly effective approach to the very vexing area of losing weight.

There's no denying it, when we feel stressed out and time-strapped, most of us start reaching for the biscuit tin. After all, there's nothing a chocolate digestive or two can't cure, is there? In fact, a recent survey by Kalms has found that 44 per cent of us admit to over-eating when stressed. However, the weight gain that many of us experience along with a stressful, fast-moving lifestyle isn't all down to comfort-seeking munchies. The fact is that stress physiologically changes the way our bodies work, actually making it more difficult to lose weight.

Being subjected to stress is often out of our control. But it's how we react to a stressful situation that's absolutely vital - and within our power. Over prolonged periods, stress is not just a major cause of weight gain, it can also cause premature ageing, reduced bone density and lowered immunity, digestive problems and poor skin - so harnessing that power is all-important.

The link between stress and weight gain is down to the adrenal glands. The basic task of these glands is to rush all your body's resources into ‘fight or flight' mode in response to feeling ‘under attack' or stressed. In this high alert mode, the production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol is stepped up. Adrenaline gives rise to those unpleasant symptoms of increased heart rate and raised blood pressure that you experience when you're anxious, while high levels of cortisol can lead to a number of health problems. These include the inability to lose weight (particularly around the tummy area), poor skin quality, rapid ageing, digestive problems and lowered immunity.

We're all under constant pressure from the multi-tasking challenges of modern life and are frequently over-anxious, over-worked, deprived of fresh, nourishing foods and exposed to environmental toxins - with no opportunity for emotional downtime. So what can you do to counter all of these negative effects of modern day stress? Follow this plan, that's what!

Introducing the Anti-stress Eating Plan

The Anti-stress Eating Plan will help you lose weight with the rather seductive benefits of not having to count calories, cut out fat or religiously calculate your G.I. What could be better? What's more, each meal you have on the plan is nutrient ‘maxed', which helps to satisfy your hunger. Whoever binged on lentil soup or oily fish? But the reason that we overeat so-called ‘empty' calories, which are devoid of nutrients, is that your body doesn't get the goodness it needs from them - and therefore tells you to eat more: cue weight gain.

This plan will help protect your body from stress on the inside, while delivering all the energy you need to deal with your hectic lifestyle.

The 10 essential rules

1 Ditch the chemicals. If you can't pronounce the names of certain processed foods' ingredients, they probably contain toxins that can lead to weight gain. If you do buy processed foods, such as tinned tomatoes, buy organic.

2 Avoid eating when stressed - make a cup of herbal tea instead. Liquorice tea is great for stalling your appetite.

3 Only eat when you're hungry. If you're tempted to reach for a sugary snack, drink a glass of water and then wait 10 minutes - chances are, you are simply thirsty.

4 Digestion starts in your mouth. Chew food properly and eat slowly. And sit down to eat, even if it's just for 10 minutes.

5 Be prepared. Ensure that you have the ingredients for quick nutritious meals such as stir-fries and salads to hand. This will stop you reaching for the biscuits.

6 Eat and drink regularly. You must have breakfast, lunch and dinner each day and have two or three cleansing drinks daily (warm water with a squeeze of lemon). These will boost your digestion.

7 Stock up on snack items. This will stop you comfort eating. 

8 You have the option of having one dessert a week.

9 Drink at least four cups of water each day (in addition to cleansing drinks), some of which can be herbal or green tea. Avoid caffeine. If you need a coffee fix, go for decaf ‘real' coffee (water filter process). You may also have several cups of miso soup.

10 You can have limitless vegetables on this diet, so pile up your plate as high, and with as many varieties, as possible.

See page 2 for the anti-stress eating plan

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