The Relationship Between Stress and Weight Gain

The Relationship Between Stress and Weight Gain

With the pressures of modern day lifestyles causing many of us to compromise our own well-being, Dr. Sutthi Sawetsutthiphan, Medical Director at Thanyapura in Thailand, tells us about the influential relationship between stress and weight gain.

“Heavy thoughts bring on physical maladies; when the soul is oppressed so is the body.” - Martin Luther

Have you ever noticed? When you get stressed, apart from mentally suffering from anxiety or depression, your body also experiences the unhealthy way of gaining weight.

Stress can be categorized into two types; the physical stress that comes from overusing your body such as tiredness, hunger, sleepless and heavy training* or the mental stress that can be caused by a million of different things happening in your life.

When you get stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. This hormone plays an important factor in the increase of blood sugar and the creation of fat that can be stored everywhere, especially in your belly, hips, and thighs and quickly spread across your entire body. Not only adding to your size, cortisol can also decay your muscles and bones ensuring your new look will be less lean and as puffy as possible.

Dr. Sutthi Sawetsutthiphan, from Thanyapura Preventive Holistic Clinic, explains the way to prevent the ugly circle of stress - fat – stress, a process not necessarily complicated to follow.

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Before It’s Too Late

To protect your physical body from getting stressed, you have to protect yourself from getting sick; stay healthy with a proper sleep cycle, nutrition, and sufficient exercise.

You have to listen to yourself; don't lead your body to exhaustion from your daily routine, work or training. When your body says it’s enough, it means “Enough!” Get some relaxing time pampering your body with a spa or massage that will help ease the physical pain.

Mental stress is invisible and untouchable and can occur anytime you receive a message from your surroundings, such as a negative comment about your work. As long as you care, it matters.

To prevent this, try to work out at least three times a week to maintain body strength and split your meals into smaller portions, ideally eight times per day. With a proper and consistent exercise, you will have a deep sleep and wake up fresh which helps reduce the amount of stress.

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If you find yourself getting depressed often, feeling anxious, losing focus, and generally feeling unhappy, you can check for your stress level at a specialised clinic, where you will be checked for your blood, urine, saliva and heart rate viability.

There are mind training courses that can help reduce stress and increase focus and peace of mind through meditation, breathing exercise, and relaxation technique alongside physical training such as yoga.

“When you feel mentally exhausted and stressed, get out from wherever you are and find a quiet room with a calm atmosphere. Sit in a relaxed position, listen to soft melodies, deeply inhale and slowly exhale, focus on your breath and you will feel relieved at some stage.”

Nutrition is one of the keys, too. Five to six small meals a day are recommended. The strategy is to avoid both hunger and satiety.

For example, have a light snack at 7:00 am followed by a breakfast at 9:00 am, a light meal at noon, a lunch at 2:00 pm, some snack at 5:00 pm and finish with a light dinner at 7:00 pm.

Brain food and alkaline food are your true friends for this situation. Avoid low in fiber carbohydrates, such as white rice or noodles. Also try to avoid products with wheat or wheat flour, like bread, whole wheat bread, pasta, pastry, cookies etc. Look for carbohydrates that are high in fiber like in whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, lentils, beans, chickpeas), whole fruit, and oats. Choose white and lean protein, such as fish or chicken breast and also look for plant based sources of healthy fat such as avocado, seeds, and nuts.

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Beware of Yourself

Cortisol is released every day according to a certain pattern. In the morning, cortisol levels are usually high (which is why you should not skip breakfast) then drops in the afternoon and even lower in the evening. At about 2am – 3am it will slightly increase.

However, your cortisol levels can be different depending on how you treat your body. A hectic lifestyle can easily destroy the natural pattern of cortisol’s release which directly affects weight gain.

During the first phases of stress, people will have a high level of cortisol, increasing their weight and insulin which can cause diabetes and also destroy bone mass. After a while, if not treated, the body will stop producing any other hormones that are considered “unnecessary” to help increase the cortisol level such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), androgen and oestrogen. Finally, the body will also stop producing hormones that balance minerals, such as Aldosterone, which will dramatically lower blood pressure and make you feel very weak.

If you are facing a cortisol crisis, some additional supplements are recommended, such as vitamin C (2,000 mg./day), minerals, and B vitamins especially B5.

Don't worry. Be happy...

“If there is no solution to the problem then don't waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don't waste time worrying about it.” - Dalai Lama XIV

*For heavy training athletes, such as triathletes who train at least 10 hours a week, the body changes so the heart rate becomes lower than approximately 45-60/minute which allows them to train very hard and recover very quickly. This case is an exception.


This is a guest blog post by Dr. Sutthi Sawetsutthiphan, Medical Director at Thanyapura in Thailand. If you would like to book a holiday at Thanyapura , enquire online here, talk to one of our Travel Specialists on 0203 397 8891 

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