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Why stress causes weight gain – and how to beat it

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One major factor in weight gain – particularly around the stomach area – is stress. But why and how do we work to fight it? We've spoken to Callum Melly, one of the UK's leading personal trainers and founder of Body in 8 to get the lowdown...

How does it work?

A natural defence mechanism, stress encourages an influx of adrenaline. This boosts 'fight or flight' hormones, which then causes the body to release cortisol.

Cortisol promotes fat storage, especially visceral fat, which can be extremely detrimental to our health and wellbeing as it surrounds our vital organs and releases fatty acids into the blood system, raising cholesterol and insulin levels.

What's more, our body's natural reaction to combat stress after an increase in cortisol is to eat high fat, sweet and salty foods as they stimulate the brain to release comforting pleasure chemicals that can help to reduce tension.

Your brain then associates this fatty food-induced soothing effect with stress relief so it can become extremely addictive for anyone undergoing chronic stress – leading to weight gain.

How do we fight it?

1. Get active, recommends Callum. "Your body will naturally assume you're fleeing a stressful situation if you get your blood pumping and this will increase circulation and encourage the transportation of cortisol to your kidneys – flushing it out of your system". 2. Kick the caffeine. "If you're feeling stressed, get rid of all caffeine. When you combine stress with caffeine, it can raise cortisol levels more than stress alone and increase the time in which cortisol is active in the body by up to 30 per cent," he says. 3. Get more sleep. "Sleep is vital for reducing cortisol levels and combating stress! The National Sleep Foundation recommends we aim for 7-9 hours of deep sleep a night, as little as 6.5 hours can increase cortisol levels, appetite and weight gain. So sleep more, eat less and feel better too!"4. Increase your vitamin intake. "A solid multivitamin or breakfast rich in Vitamin B, C, D, calcium and magnesium can reduce cortisol levels and food cravins," says Callum. "Foods that are rich in these vitamins are also usually high in essential macronutrients such as protein, fats and carbohydrates which will promote a lean and healthy body when eaten as part of a balanced diet."

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