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Stress Less, Weigh Less

Cortisol boosts belly fat and makes us crave fats and sweets. Let yourself relax and the pounds will fall right off.

| March 8th, 2012
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Stress Less, Weigh Less

A little stress can be good thing, but the majority of Americans experience an unhealthy amount of it. One visible way that stress drags our bodies down: weight gain.

When we sense a threat, our body produces chemicals to help us rise to the occasion. But if our lives turn into a roller coaster of challenges, we pack on the pounds. Luckily, the path to stress reduction also leads to weight loss. Here are three ways.

QUIZ: How Stressed Are You?

1) Chronic stress gives you belly fat

When you’re stressed out, your brain sends a message to the adrenal glands on your kidneys to produce the hormone cortisol. Overtime, cortisol tells your body to store more energy, which is a euphemism for: store more fat in your stomach. Your fat cells oblige by growing more abdominal fat. Lovely.

So try: A walking meditation

When you’re having a jam-packed day, fit in 15 minutes for a walking meditation where you breathe from your diaphragm, focusing on each breath and step you make. Medical students who used this technique had a near 47 percent reduction in stress prevalence.

MORE: Walking Meditation for Stress Relief

2) Stress makes you crave fatty, sugary foods

Emotional eater? We’re wired to find comfort foods so comforting. After a stressful event, leftover cortisol releases a neurotransmitter, which piques your appetite for sweet and savory goods. Eating high-cal foods helped your ancestors survive when they were “stressed.” With Donut Shops around every corner today, food choices can seem more like a curse than a blessing.

QUIZ: Are You An Emotional Eater?

So try: Mood-boosting foods

Omega-3 foods reduce the amount of cortisol your body produces. Foods high in folic acid and vitamin B12 help regulate your mood, by producing neurotransmitters linked to pleasure and calmness. Nixing alcohol and caffeine can help you get a better night’s sleep, keeping you less stressed the next day.

Still have strong cravings? Satisfy these urges with six healthier swaps.

3) Stress makes you eat more.

You may have that friend who swears she can’t eat a thing when she’s anxious. It’s true, our appetite does decrease in the middle of a stressful event. But after a stressful event, even disciplined eaters eat as a coping mechanism. Why? Cortisol desensitizes your brain to leptin, the hormone that’d otherwise tell your body “I’m full!”

QUIZ: Getting Enough Folate & B12?

So try: Slowly building your workout regimen

Keep your blood sugar steady by eating five small meals throughout the day. It's great fuel for exercise, and beats depriving yourself! If you don’t usually pound it out on the pavement, start small. As you build the time and intensity of your workout, you’ll train your body to handle a higher threshold of stress before you release cortisol.

Not a runner? Yoga has mega stress management benefits. Get ready to downward-dog your way to relaxation, and a fitter body.

GALLERY: Yoga Poses Boost Mood

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