We’ve all heard countless times that stress is the number one underlying contributing to disease in America. And now, according to a new study published in the journal Psychoneuroendrocrinology, we can blame it (in part) it for making us fat, as well.

Most of us assume that a combination of genetics and sugary, salty, high-fat foods lead to obesity. While that’s true, high stress levels exacerbate the problem considerably.


The study monitored 61 healthy women over the course of a year. Of these women, 33 were under high amounts of stress, while 28 led low-stress lifestyles, reports Juliana Bunim at UCSF.

The study’s’s lead author, Kirstin Aschbacher, explains,

“We found that more frequent high-fat, high-sugar consumption significantly predicted a larger waistline, more truncal fat, higher oxidative damage, and more insulin resistance, but only among the group of women exposed to chronic stress.”

Chronic stress levels make you produce more peripheral Neuropeptide Y, which has some effect on regulating your appetite:

Many people think a calorie is a calorie, but this study suggests that two women who eat the same thing could have different metabolic responses based on their level of stress. There appears to be a stress pathway that works through diet – for example, it could be similar to what we see in animals, where fat cells grow faster in response to junk food when the body is chronically stressed.”

In layman’s terms, that means our bodies are less effective at fighting off fat when you’re constantly stressed out. Add this to the fact that sleeping poorly makes you crave fatty foods, and it’s clear that one of the best things you can do to stay trim is chill out.

Our advice? Try going on a stress diet instead of a food diet. It may be way more effective than cutting out that afternoon brownie.

[via UCSF]

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