A woman lies on a hammock and reads a book.
Just six minutes of reading for pleasure has been found to reduce your stress levels by 68 percent. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

In this fast-paced world, it’s a wonder anyone gets enough rest.

It almost becomes a game to see how much one person can fit into a single day. It has become the new norm.

Your body, however, has not changed. It has an internal response to stress. And when you constantly push your body to the limit, it will eventually fail to keep up.

Your body doesn’t know the difference between real danger (say, an oncoming car) and everyday tasks (deadlines from the boss).

The reaction is the same: The hormones cortisol and adrenalin are released.

Cortisol lingers even after stress is reduced. It causes fat storage and it slows metabolism to help store energy for the perceived fight. On top of increased fat storage, the type of fat stored is visceral fat—a more dangerous belly fat around the organs. It releases inflammatory chemicals that can cause chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.

Adrenalin, on the other hand, is what gets you wired up for the fight or flight response. Initially, this will decrease your appetite, but over time, this constant anxiety leads to comfort eating or emotional eating.

It turns on a reward pathway in the brain that helps calm you down. Unfortunately, the foods the body craves during stress are high in fat and sugar. They are “comfort foods” that may even be tied to memories from childhood.

Well, that’s enough to get you more stressed out, right? Is it any wonder so many struggle with emotional eating and weight gain? Add to this a diet, and many find themselves in a world of trouble.

Dieting and increased food cravings from food restriction can cause stress, which leads to binging and guilt after failing yet another diet. Then more weight gain. And the cycle continues.

So, how can we stop the cycle? Here are some helpful tips:

  • Practice stress management: Reduce daily tasks as much as possible, and find plenty of “you” time to recharge or unwind. A therapist can also prove helpful. Reading for pleasure, listening to your favorite music, and getting out in nature are all known to instantly soothe your system.
  • Exercise: Take a walk or stop by the gym. While you’re burning off those calories, you’re also reducing cortisol and improving your mood.
  • Eat well: Be more mindful of your eating habits—track your hunger and fullness and keep a food log to document your stress eating. It can help you identify your triggers to eating.
  • Be creative: Make a list of things to do besides eat during stress. Enjoy adult coloring? Gaming? Make time for that instead of stressing (and snacking) all night long.