I’m sure I don’t have to convince you that stress is harmful to your health. An article in the Huffington Post said it this way:
“Stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death — heart disease, cancer, stroke, lower respiratory disease, and accidents. An estimated 75 percent to 90 percent of all doctor visits are for stress-related issues. … The culprit behind so many of our health problems is staring us in the face.”
Ok, so we are in agreement that stress causes health problems. But a recent study indicates that too much stress may be as destructive to health as junk food. So when I say pick your poison I am referring to stress and junk food!
What I found especially fascinating about the study was that stress and a junk food diet had different effects on males and females. Male mice on the high-fat diet* showed more anxiety than females on the high-fat diet, and high-fat males also showed decreased activity in response to stress. However, it was only in female mice that stress caused the microbiome composition in the gut to shift as if they were on a high-fat diet. Stress changed the bacteria to resemble that of obese mice!
*Keep in mind when they say a high fat diet it is not referring to healthy fats, but to the kind in processed, fast and junk foods.
So many women I happen to know and some I work with, are under so much stress on a daily basis, they find it becomes almost impossible to lose weight. (See this previous post to understand some of the issues.) Then they become frustrated and discouraged and that adds more stress – a vicious cycle. And even when they clean up their diet and begin eating well, some still find it very difficult to lose weight and begin blaming themselves when it could all come down to too much stress.
If that sounds too simplistic – consider this: Due to the hormonal changes it causes, stress causes cravings and continual feelings of hunger, making it much more difficult to lose weight; high stress makes it almost impossible for your body to break down fat, so you end up storing more; stress is linked to mood disorders like depression, anxiety and unhappiness which can be triggers for overeating; and stress hinders the ability to sleep, raising cortisol levels which is linked to weight gain.
Obviously this study was done with mice but the researchers felt confident it could have important impacts for us as well.
My take-away is this: Yes, it is important to eat a clean, whole food diet but it is just as critical to be aware of other factors, like stress, which we all experience to one degree or another, and to acknowledge how it could be affecting your efforts at weight loss and health.
Here’s to becoming aware of stressors and finding effective ways to deal with them.
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