Stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. From fatigue and insomnia to digestive problems and heart disease, chronic stress is a serious issue for many Americans who are running on empty. But even if your stress levels aren't at a chronic level, the small daily anxieties we all face every day could be causing some unwanted side effects -- like those extra pounds that won't come off.
Registered dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield explains why a stressful day can cause even the most health-conscious among us to blow our diets.
"The way that we're programmed from back in the day, was that if there was a lion or a tiger, we needed a way to run away so we could live," she says. "So we have these stress hormones built in -- it's a flight or fight response."
Here's the problem: in this day and age, we're always stressed. "So it's much more chronic," Scritchfield says. "These hormones increase and they don't really go back down. And when these hormones are elevated, we have elevated food cravings, we have increased anxiety, and we just deal with too much over-stimulation and not enough down time, and that could affect our food choices and eventually our weight gain, as well."
While we can't change our hormones, we can be mindful of our time management and the ways stress causes us to change our normal routines. For instance, Scritchfield says, working out is usually the first thing to go when we're stressed. It's harder to plan and prepare meals, which means we're more likely to order take out or let someone else do the cooking. Our sleep starts to suffer and we walk around feeling exhausted. All of these things add up over time and can lead to weight gain, Scritchfield warns.
The key, she says, it to look for ways to add more structure into our day, making sure the little things don't add up. "If we feel stressed out, we might not really notice the increase in sugar cravings," she says. "We might not notice that we're grazing while we're cooking, because we really want to crunch down on something. It's amazing how small amounts of overeating could add up."