’Tis the stressed-out season to pack on the pounds
Harvard Medical School study says stress - which increases over the festive season - is linked to wider girths
SA ranks among the most stressed nations in the world – bad news not only for our mental wellbeing, but our waistlines, too.
According to a recent Harvard Medical School report, persistent stress is directly linked to overeating, a lack of sleep, reduced exercise and increased alcohol intake – all of which ultimately contribute to weight gain.
The report found that while short-term stress could slow down appetite, it’s a different story if it persists.
Chronic stress, it said, may cause the adrenal glands to release the hormone cortisol, which boosts appetite. If stress persisted, cortisol levels may remain elevated, resulting in “comfort” eating or overeating.
“Stress also seems to affect food preferences ... [increasing] the intake of food high in fat, sugar or both. These foods really are comfort foods in that they seem to counteract stress – and that may contribute to people’s stress-induced craving for those foods.”
The report further notes that overeating isn’t the only stress-related behaviour that can add kilos.
“Stressed people also lose sleep, exercise less and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to excess weight.
“Some research suggests a gender difference in stress-coping behaviour, with women being more likely to turn to food and men to alcohol or smoking,” the report said.
“And a Finnish study that included over 5,000 men and women showed that obesity was associated with stress-related eating in women but not in men,” it continued.
The Harvard report recommends emptying the fridge and cupboards of high-fat and sugary foods.
“Keeping those comfort foods handy is just inviting trouble.”
SA nutritionist Vanessa Ascencao said stress-related overeating and overindulging during holidays would probably place further pressure on the body, contributing to a cycle of poor health.
“Excessive alcohol, sugary and fatty foods place enormous strain on the liver and other organs.
“Make a conscious decision not to binge over the holidays and rather to aim for a healthy and balanced diet. Find an alternative to overindulging such as exercise.”
How to avoid the bulge this December Identify stress triggers and try to avoid them;
Have an exit plan for functions at which you’ll be tempted to overindulge;
Be selective about your time – choose healthy pursuits with healthy people;
Build resilience by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables; and
Sleep for at least eight hours a night and exercise daily for at least 30 minutes. Source: SA nutritionist Vanessa Ascencao