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Mar 6, 2011

Weight Gain and Stress


For many people stress is a fact of life in the modern world. Deadlines, juggling work and personal commitments, interruptions, rush hour traffic, conflict at home, or even the ringing of a cellular phone, are all familiar sources of stress.

Although it is impossible to eliminate all stress from daily life, it is possible to control the effect that stress has on the body and the mind.

Maybe you've already heard about cortisol. It's a hormone the body produces under stress. At least one recent fitness book has gotten a lot of attention by pointing out a potential link between high levels of cortisol and excess abdominal fat. The theory is that dieting - which produces stress for most of us - increases cortisol levels. And for women who have dieted on and off again throughout life, they may end up looking more like "apples" than "pears" because of bigger waistlines that may be associated with high cortisol levels. The negative effect isn't all cosmetic, either. Real health risks accompany excess fat in the abdomen - like increased chances of developing diabetes and even heart disease.

Whether the theoretical link between cortisol and excess abdominal fat is accurate remains to be seen. But too much cortisol in the blood is also suspect when it comes to other health problems. A study published this month demonstrated that women who constantly restrict food (that is, who constantly diet) have higher levels of cortisol, and the researchers speculate that this may spell bad news for bone health. Other studies suggest cortisol levels may be a predictor of fractures for older adults.

Stress hormones aside, we also know that stress makes it harder for women to put their good intentions into action. It puts us on edge, sometimes making the least challenge something that causes us to mindlessly revert back to old, unhealthy habits.

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