And fat can make you stressed – Depressed because you weigh more than you want to? It could be because you’re stressed. Science has long documented the effect of extreme stress, such as war, injury or traumatic grief on humans. Typically, such situations cause victims to decrease their food intake and body weight. Recent studies, however, tend to suggest that social stress, such as public speaking, tests, job and relationship pressures, may have the opposite effect–over-eating and weight gain.

Stress hormones aren’t good for us: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol strongly predict cardiovascular death among both persons with and without pre-existing cardiovascular disease. In stressful situations, the body responds by producing the hormone cortisol. The effects of cortisol are intended to help the body recover from stress but chronically elevated cortisol levels have been associated with cardiovascular risk factors.

A recent study examined the effects of stress on the meal patterns and food intake of animals exposed to the equivalent of everyday stress on humans. The results suggest that, not only does stress have an impact on us in the short term, it can cause metabolic changes in the longer term that contribute to obesity. Studies of both humans and animals demonstrate that taking fewer and larger meals promotes the gain of fat mass and can increase triglycerides, lipids and cholesterol independent of total caloric intake. Weight gain–even while overeating–can be prevented by consuming smaller, more frequent meals (in other words, nibbling).

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